How can I collect feedback when my patients are too unwell to respond?

This case study will help if you:

  • work in palliative care, or
  • have patients who are children or young people
  • have patients with reduced capacity
  • have patients who may be distressed
  • see a small number of patients with repeated contact.

Key points to consider

  • You need to reflect on patient feedback for revalidation, whatever your role or specialty. If you see a small number of patients, or patients who may find it difficult to give feedback, you should still seek patient feedback and consider how best you can do this.
  • If your patients are children, or have learning disabilities or communication difficulties, adjust the feedback process so they can take part. For example, by offering support to give feedback (independent of you) or using an 'easy read' questionnaire.
  • If your patient can’t give you feedback themselves, ask a member of the patient’s family or their carer, on their behalf.
  • If your patients or their families or carers, are too distressed to be asked for feedback, think about whether you could ask later.
  • Make sure those you ask for feedback understand why you’re asking for it and how you’ll use it. Clearly explaining this means they’re more likely to respond.


Dr Levy works as part of a small team of doctors in a hospice for children and young adults. The doctors who are in her team are part time, have a variety of backgrounds such as general practice and paediatrics, and work partly or wholly for the hospice.

Only a small number of patients are accepted at one time so she often sees the same patients and families over a long period of time. This can lead to 'feedback fatigue' among the patients and families, particularly as many of the patients have limited or no capacity to give feedback.

Meeting our feedback requirements

Dr Levy decided to send questionnaires by post, rather than giving them to her patients and their families face-to-face. This meant families facing difficult circumstances could complete the feedback in their own time.

She gave administrative staff at the hospice a list of patients and families she had seen. They managed the feedback process, to make sure no family was overburdened by being approached multiple times.

A covering letter was provided with the form to explain the process and included a photograph of the doctor to help with recognition. They asked respondents to include free text comments, as specific examples tended to offer more helpful learning opportunities than scores alone.

She adapted a generic patient feedback questionnaire to make it more suitable for the hospice population and for patients’ parents and carers to use. The hospice also developed an ‘easy read’ questionnaire for children and patients with learning disabilities to use.

If patients completed this questionnaire while at the hospice, a member of staff (other than the doctor) supported them with this. This was an intensive process, but made sure the feedback was representative of all patients.

Dr Levy decided not to seek feedback using questionnaires from families after bereavement, but offered these families the opportunity to give feedback through user groups, Facebook groups, response cards and questionnaires left in on-site family flats. While not specific to the doctor, information from these was shared with the whole team as it provided helpful learning and development opportunities.

She received an anonymised summary report of all her feedback to reflect on at her appraisal. This was based on questionnaires which had been returned to the administrator. 

It took Dr Levy around three months to collect enough responses, due to the relatively small number of patients who she could approach for feedback

She found the approach far more successful than handing out feedback forms face-to-face and around three quarters of the questionnaires were completed and returned. This gave each doctor in Dr Levy’s team between 10 and 20 responses. It was a significant but achievable undertaking for this healthcare context. 

Useful links

Royal College of Physicians, Physician specialty resources

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