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Review of online health professional registers – the public perspective

21 Oct 2009 | Professional Standards Authority
  • Research Papers

October 2009 research report

We commissioned this research to inform our report on how to maximise the contribution of professional registers to public protection and safety, which came about from our 2007-08 Performance review. 

The members of the public who took part in the research demonstrated a low level of awareness of online registers and did not have a clear understanding of what they could be used for. Having visited the registers, most felt that they would be unlikely to rely on them as the sole source of information on a health professional, but would use them to verify their legitimacy, and possibly to find practitioners in the local area. Information about fitness to practise, formal qualifications and location of practise were viewed as essential but were not universally available.

Purpose

We carried out this research in 2009 with members of the UK public to get an understanding of patient and public expectations of online registers, and to establish what an ideal online register would look like.

We recruited Synovate to find participants and design and carry out the research.

Background

Our 2007-08 Performance Review found that the level of detail provided by the regulators’ registers and the way it was presented to the public varied across the different regulators. We commented that:
An issue for consideration by CHRE and the regulators […]  is the content of the registers, particularly in relation to current and past fitness to practise outcomes. […] there should be greater commonality in how these sanctions are reflected on their registers.

Research on the regulators’ registers had previously been conducted in 2006, but some of the regulators had subsequently invested in the development of their online registers, resulting in the variations identified in the Performance Review.

Research brief

We asked Synovate to explore the public’s views on what they expected of registers and what an ideal online register would look like and include. The specific objectives were to:

- review the current online registers
- establish which elements were essential and desirable
- identify best practice in terms of format and information provided
- explore views on how improved registers could be useful to members of the public.

Synovate set up two online panels to consider the registers. The first panel consisted of people who had infrequent contact with health professionals, while the second was mostly made up of people with ongoing health needs.

Findings

Broadly speaking, all the registers performed the key function expected by the public: of helping them to identify registered professionals who met required industry standards. This was achieved through the use of a name search function. A ‘sounds like’ function was considered an important enhancement of the search function, allowing people to search when they did not know the exact spelling of a name.

The availability of fitness to practise information, which was seen as crucial for checking the legitimacy of a health professional, was patchy across the different registers. There was agreement that information about those who have been struck off should be available to avoid confusion between someone who is not on the register because they have never been registered or because they removed themselves voluntarily, and someone who has been struck off.

Many hoped to be able to use a professional register to find a health professional in their area and even expected the register to help them choose between different registrants. Generally, registers did not make it clear what they could and could not be used for, and the differing levels of functionality across the registers meant users did not have a standards yardstick against which to measure all nine registers.

Accessibility was as important as functionality, and some of the registers were not sufficiently prominent on the regulators’ websites.

Next steps

We incorporated the findings from this research into our report Health professional regulators’ registers: Maximising their contribution to public protection and patient safety and have followed up on our recommendations in our annual performance reviews. 

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