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CAMHS won't see you now

Online reviews are pretty dodgy even for Blackberries

A quick look at Amazon suggests only a few patients with unusually strong views will bother rating GPs

By Richard Hoey

A quick look at Amazon suggests only a few patients with unusually strong views will bother rating GPs

Amazon, iTunes, eBay, TripAdvisor… the metaphors are many, various and slightly muddled.

What it amounts to, though, is Gordon Brown's grand vision for public services, which is basically to allow people to rate as many things as possible.

Whether it's police, councils or of course GP practices, pretty soon it will be stuck on a website and opened up to feedback.

Few Tory attacks have stung the Prime Minister quite so much as the suggestion he is a ‘roadblock' to public services reform, and he is no doubt gleeful at getting the chance to launch a pretty radical set of proposals.

But where is the evidence that the plans to allow patients to rate practices on NHS Choices will be either fair to GPs or helpful to patients?

I've been having a look at a few of the sites out there that allow customer feedback. I started with a little tapas bar just down the road from the Pulse offices. There have been 10 reviews since July 2007, and the last two reviewers give it a two, and a nine.

It's a similar story on Amazon, where I checked out the Blackberry Storm, famous for getting a roasting from Stephen Fry. Surprisingly, this version has only had three reviews on Amazon – one gives it two stars out of five, another a maximum score.

So what does this tell us? Well firstly, there just aren't vast numbers of people out there who can be bothered to seek out a website and let people know what they thought of a service.

And secondly, and this really oughtn't to come as a surprise to ministers but somehow you fear that it will, if you can be bothered to post a view, you have a very strong, very distinct reason for doing so, which is likely by definition to make you wholly unrepresentative.

Each set of feedback is in effect a very, very tiny self-selected survey.

It's not as though the consumer sites don't know this.

The Internet Movie Database, for instance, employs complicated Bayesian equations to dilute the effects of mad enthusiasts or vindictive critics. So the question is, what will NHS Choices do to protect GPs?

Or maybe that's not the question at all. Maybe the real question is, if rating sites are not really that good even for consumer products, how less appropriate are they for a valued public service?

By Richard Hoey, Pulse deputy editor

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