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H Haman, S Irvine, D Jelly. (Pp 130; £19.95). Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press, 2001. ISBN 1 85775 570 7.
Interest in ways of improving quality and promoting greater accountability in general practice have never been greater as the principles of clinical governance become accepted within the National Health Service (NHS). Peer appraisal is not a new concept, even amongst health professionals who often view “new” management ideas with some scepticism. However, it is not widely used in general practice and there is no doubt that this will change as appraisals are introduced into the NHS.
In this context a new guide to peer appraisal will be welcomed by many primary care professionals. The Peer Appraisal Handbook is clear, concise, and practical without pushing back the intellectual boundaries of the subject under review. The book is likely to be of greatest interest to an audience that is not familiar with peer appraisal, or to readers who know a little and want the concepts drawn together. The authors accept uncritically that appraisal is a good thing. Readers who want to know whether there is any evidence that it makes a difference to patient outcomes or professional satisfaction will be disappointed.
The book has been published before detailed information about the format of NHS appraisal is released. The authors therefore sensibly focus on general principles. They take the reader through a logical 10 step approach and base the content of the appraisal around Good Medical Practice for General Practitioners—a document which is likely to form the basis of both appraisal and revalidation for family doctors. The section describing the differences between constructive and destructive criticism is particularly useful. However, in other chapters the dangers of oversimplifying complex issues become obvious. For example, in the section on patient feedback as a method of collecting information for appraisal, generic patient satisfaction surveys are rightly dismissed but without reference to some of the specific patient experience instruments now being used.
This book will be useful as a practical guide to general practitioners new to the principles of peer appraisal, but it is unlikely to be an enduring item in the practice library.