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Questionnaires for assessing doctors’ performance “reliable”

4 June 2008

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Patient and colleague questionnaires may offer a reliable method for assessing the professional performance of UK doctors, according to new research commissioned by the General Medical Council (GMC).

In a pilot study, 541 doctors were assessed by their colleagues and patients using standardised questionnaires developed by the GMC.

The patient questionnaire focused on gathering the views of patients on a doctor’s communication skills, ability to explain conditions and treatments and to involve the patient in the decision-making process.

The colleague questionnaire asked that colleagues give their views on a number of key issues such as a doctor’s clinical knowledge, teaching skills and prescribing.

A white paper on the regulation of health professionals, published in 2007, confirmed that patient and colleague questionnaires would become a key element in the revalidation of doctors in the future.

Professor John Campbell, Foundation Professor of General Practice and Primary Care at Peninsula Medical School, who led the research, said: “Only by adopting processes thoroughly grounded in research evidence can patients, society, and the medical profession have confidence in the evaluation of a doctor’s professional performance.

“This study provides that initial confidence. In line with aspirations recently expressed in the government’s white paper, Trust, Assurance and Safety, these tools appear to offer doctors the possibility that they can provide real evidence in relation to their clinical practice.”

The GMC has now commissioned the research team to undertake more in-depth testing of the questionnaires across whole organisations and in different clinical settings. The outcome of this further research piece will help underpin work on evaluating the professional practice of doctors as part of the revalidation process.

Professor Campbell added: “Our current work will provide further evidence on the utility of feedback obtained from patients and colleagues in identifying those doctors whose performance might require further scrutiny.”