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Exploring family physicians' reactions to multisource feedback: perceptions of credibility and usefulness


Ms Joan Sargeant, Continuing Medical Education, Dalhousie University, Clinical Research Centre, 5849 University Avenue, Halifax, NS B3H 4H7, Canada. Tel: (902) 494 1995; Fax: (902) 494 1479; E-mail:


Purpose  Physician performance is comprised of several domains of professional competence. Multisource feedback (MSF) or 360-degree feedback is an approach used to assess these, particularly the humanistic and relational competencies. Research studying responses to performance assessment shows that reactions vary and can influence how performance feedback is used. Improvement does not always result, especially when feedback is perceived as negative. This small qualitative study undertook preliminary exploration of physicians' reactions to MSF, and perceptions influencing these and the acceptance and use of their feedback.

Methods  We held focus groups with 15 family physicians participating in an MSF pilot study. Qualitative analyses included content and constant comparative analyses.

Results  Participants agreed that the purpose of MSF assessment should be to enhance practice and generally agreed with their patients' feedback. However, responses to medical colleague and co-worker feedback ranged from positive to negative. Several participants who responded negatively did not agree with their feedback nor were inclined to use it for practice improvement. Reactions were influenced by perceptions of accuracy, credibility and usefulness of feedback. Factors shaping these perceptions included: recruiting credible reviewers, ability of reviewers to make objective assessments, use of the assessment tool and specificity of the feedback.

Conclusion  Physicians' perceptions of the MSF process and feedback can influence how and if they use the feedback for practice improvement. These findings are important, raising the concern that feedback perceived as negative and not useful will have no or negative results, and highlight questions for further study.