Harnessing the cloud of patient experience: using social media to detect poor quality healthcare

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Felix Greaves, Daniel Ramirez-Cano, Christopher Millett, Ara Darzi, Liam Donaldson

Recent years have seen increasing interest in patient-centred care and calls to focus on improving the patient experience. At the same time, a growing number of patients are using the internet to describe their experiences of healthcare. We believe the increasing availability of patients’ accounts of their care on blogs, social networks, Twitter and hospital review sites presents an intriguing opportunity to advance the patient-centred care agenda and provide novel quality of care data. We describe this concept as a ‘cloud of patient experience’. In this commentary, we outline the ways in which the collection and aggregation of patients’ descriptions of their experiences on the internet could be used to detect poor clinical care. Over time, such an approach could also identify excellence and allow it to be built on. We suggest using the techniques of natural language processing and sentiment analysis to transform unstructured descriptions of patient experience on the internet into usable measures of healthcare performance. We consider the various sources of information that could be used, the limitations of the approach and discuss whether these new techniques could detect poor performance before conventional measures of healthcare quality.