Sourcing the crowd for health services improvement: The reflexive patient and "share-your-experience" websites
In countries where the notion of "reflexive patients" dominates the health policy landscape, patients are increasingly encouraged to publicize their personal experiences with health services provision by reviewing hospitals and professionals on the web. The number of websites where patients can review one or more aspects of their care (and read reviews posted by others) is growing. These sites are an example of the practice of crowdsourcing, where applications that facilitate user-generated content solicit feedback from a given public; site administrators then use this feedback for product development, quality improvement and policy change. The research presented here examines such developments in the context of ongoing discussions about reflexive consumerism and increased transparency in healthcare. It draws on data from a three-year study of share-your-experience sites in the US, UK, and the Netherlands. Data is taken primarily from a discourse analysis of four of the six sites under study, including patient reviews of institutions and professionals (n = 450). Supplementary data from interviews with stakeholders related to the Dutch sites (n = 15) is also used. This is the first known study of multiple share-your-experience websites in different countries. It shows that monitoring as "reflexive" behavior is not automatic, but is encouraged by website creators who, hoping to use the posts for other purposes, act as mediators between patients and other healthcare stakeholders. It further argues that patients demonstrate more reflexivity than some stakeholders realize, although not necessarily in the way that Giddens proposed. It concludes with the argument that the focus on reflexivity in healthcare means that not only institutions must be more transparent about their performance; patients are expected to be more transparent about their choices, as well.