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Pay attention to the sound of the crowd

“The wisdom of crowds” was one of the buzz phrases of 2004. The theory was that social media and other digital services allowed opinion to be aggregated quickly and effectively to drive real world decisions.

As with most things related to new technology its short term importance was significantly overestimated and the idea quickly became just another “next big thing”.

But the NHS now runs the risk of forgetting the second characteristic of new technology - that its long term impact is underestimated.

The ratings and comments system run by NHS Choices has been operating for nearly four years. More than 100,000 patient and public views have been captured and the aggregated message is growing louder.

The research, exclusively uncovered by HSJ, has some important things to say: most notably that GPs must improve their customer service, but also that independent hospitals tend to provide a better patient experience and are, in general, thought to be cleaner than NHS facilities.

There are reasons for all the above - but dismissing the views as ill-informed or failing to recognise the pressures on these organisations is only likely to harden them. HSJ also feels confident that academic research into the collected “wisdom” of these ratings will soon prove their relative robustness.

In time, such aggregated information may start to have a real impact on patient and public behaviour towards the health service. Wise commissioners and providers will start paying attention now.

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