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NHS Choices feedback hailed as ‘wisdom of crowds’

Patients' unsolicited NHS Choices ratings tally with objective measures of performance at hospitals and provide ‘useful and relevant' information for patients, according to a new independent study.

Researchers say the findings suggest the website set up in 2008 - which allows patients to rate GP surgeries and hospitals in the same way as they might rate a hotel on Tripadvisor - is harnessing ‘the wisdom of crowds'.

A team from Imperial College, London University examined more than 10,000 ratings of all NHS acute hospital trusts submitted on NHS Choices in 2009 and 2010.

Results published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this week showed that when the 25% of hospitals with the best ratings on NHS Choices were compared with the 25% worst, mortality rates were 5% lower and readmission rates were 11% lower in the more highly-rated hospitals.

The 25% of hospitals with best cleanliness ratings on NHS Choices had a 42% lower rate of MRSA infections than the 25% of hospitals with the worst cleanliness ratings.

Dr Felix Greaves, honorary clinical research fellow in the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said: ‘Our results suggest that NHS Choices ratings may provide useful and relevant information for patients making choices about their care.'

'The general trend is that where a hospital's overall performance on clinical measures is good, patients seem to rate it highly – and vice versa.'

'We compare these findings to James Surowiecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds, about how collective judgements result in better decisions than individuals can make by themselves. We suggest that, at least to an extent, the crowd of patients appears to be wise.'

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair said: ‘We'd question this. We've talked to many GPs where they have one or two comments, positive or negative and its hard to understand how they can be reflective of the practice.'

‘We are not opposed to the website but have continually raised concerns about the Tripadvisor method which we feel is open to manipulation and doesn't give a fair representation of practices.'

Archives of Internal Medicine, 13 February 2012