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18th March 2015

The Sister Test

The Sister TestI tend to use the ‘Sister Test’ to check my ethical position or my clinical standards at work. You know those moments of doubts, when a little warning voice is nagging inside your head and questioning your judgement. I ask myself: “Would I advise my sister to do that?”, or “Would I leave that filling like that if it was my sister?” Fortunately for everyone, my sister and I get on really well!

Now the opposite is going to apply. Patients will be asked if they would recommend us to their sister (or other family members). NHS dental practices will be required to implement the Friends and Family Test from 1 April. In effect, this is a quick and simple test of their appreciation of our care; did we get it right?

What is the question?

We will need to use one of several formats to ask a question in the standard wording of the Friends and Family Test. We should also ask at least one other follow up question - which allows the opportunity to provide free text - and submit the data to NHS England each month. The results should also be displayed within the practice.

The question is: “How likely are you to recommend our dental practice to friends and family if they needed similar care or treatment?”

There are six possible response categories:

  • Extremely likely
  • Likely
  • Neither likely nor unlikely
  • Unlikely
  • Extremely unlikely
  • Don’t know

We can use any one of the following formats to ask this:

  • Handwritten
  • Telephone call
  • Tablet/kiosk
  • SMS/text message
  • Smartphone app or online

The data will be submitted through the practice location ID and will include the total number of responses in each response category, together with the number of responses collected through each means.

Dirty washing in public!

This is going to be a very public exercise, as the data will be available to potential patients. According to NHS England guidance, the monthly data will be published on its website and on NHS Choices. This is currently expected to start after the first three month’s data has been submitted, to give the process time to bed in before monthly publication starts. The NHS England webpages will include, for each dental practice, the number of responses in each response category (e.g. ‘extremely likely’, ‘likely’, ‘neither likely nor unlikely’, etc.). In more detail, it will also list the total percentage of ‘extremely likely’ plus ‘likely’ responses, and the number of individual patients seen in the previous 12 months, to set the number of responses in context. It will be important to be accurate in your submissions because, once published, there will be no provision to revise data. If there are data issues, the focus is on practices to improve the quality of future submissions.

So, now patients will be applying the Sister Test independently. How would you like them to answer?

NHS England: Introduction to the Friends and Family Test

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

John Shapter

Dental Specialist

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