Multisource Feedback and Narrative Comments: Polarity, Specificity, Actionability, and CanMEDS Roles

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Multisource feedback is a questionnaire-based assessment tool that provides physicians with data about workplace behaviors and may combine numeric and narrative (free-text) comments. Little attention has been paid to wording of requests for comments, potentially limiting its utility to support physician performance. This study tested the phrasing of two different sets of questions.


Two sets of questions were tested with family physicians, medical and surgical specialists, and their medical colleague and coworker respondents. One set asked respondents to identify one thing the participant physician does well and one thing the physician could target for action. Set 2 questions asked what does the physician do well and what might the physician do to enhance practice. Resulting free-text comments provided by respondents were coded for polarity (positive, neutral, or negative), specificity (precision and detail), actionability (ability to use the feedback to direct future activity), and CanMEDS roles (competencies) and analyzed descriptively.


Data for 222 physicians (111 physicians per set) were analyzed. A total of 1824 comments (8.2/physician) were submitted, with more comments from coworkers than medical colleagues. Set 1 yielded more comments and were more likely to be positive, semi specific, and very actionable than set 2. However, set 2 generated more very specific comments. Comments covered all CanMEDS roles with more comments for collaborator and leader roles.


The wording of questions inviting free-text responses influences the volume and nature of the comments provided. Individuals designing multisource feedback tools should carefully consider wording of items soliciting narrative responses.

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