Digital Health: What Do Patients Want?

26/08/2015 by Darren Bristow

This is our second article in a series on the subject of ‘Digital Health’. We recently attended the Digital Health Summit, at University of Salford; which inspired so much discussion in the office that we started writing it down.

What Are Patients Looking For From Digital Services?

Patients want to be active participants in their own healthcare. To do this, they need to feel knowledgeable and empowered, supported by clinical teams who are happy to inform them and point them in the right direction when it comes to finding out relevant information. Patients want able to communicate with specialists at a time to suit the patient.

The NHS in Buckinghamshire carried out a study with 200 patients in the area to identify what it is that people were looking from their healthcare providers.

The results showed that when it comes to their health, patients want a few key essentials:

  • They want to be informed clearly about their choices.
  • They want to be listened to.
  • They want good explanations from professionals about their health and health care plan.
  • They want to have their questions about their health answered.
  • They want to take an active role in their healthcare decisions.
  • They want to be treated with respect, empathy and compassion.
  • They want to have their care integrated between departments without bumps in the road.
  • They want access to local services close to their home.

Other research supports their findings.

Information Gathering

According to a study in 2012, one in four British women has misdiagnosed themselves with a condition on the internet – a contemporary phenomenon which is leading to so called ‘cyberchondria’. It is reported that one in 20 searches on Google is health-related.

People are looking to be informed about their health but – without the right expertise – this is leading to further worry and mental distress. The NHS needs to ensure that it is providing people with not just the right information but also the education to go out and find reputable sources for that information.

One way that the NHS is changing in response to a patient’s expectation is by sharing resources on the web, directing patients to both the NHS Choice website and to other websites that have reliable information about their condition. This helps to answer questions that a patient may have about their health and can offer support services where needed from the third sector.

Facilitating Patient Choice

The NHS has been accused of being a little too prescriptive in its model of care, treating all patients as the same to get them treatment without taking into account their own personal circumstances. This goes against the patient-led model of care which is one that successive government have pressed for. Patient choice is seen as the key driver in how the NHS should look in the 21st century – allowing people to select their care based on the best possible treatment in the hospital or care centre of their choosing with the best specialists available.

To change the perception of the NHS as prescriptive, the NHS needs to look at how it delivers care to patients by engaging with them on what it is that they want. Where digital services have been trialled and implemented, they are already filling the gap between patients and their clinical teams in the NHS and helping to meet patient expectations.

Joined-Up Health Service

Patients don’t care whether the system for getting an appointment is an e-referral system or Choose and Book. They simply want to know that their needs are being considered and that they have the option to choose the best healthcare wherever possible, delivered in a way that suits them.

The use of electronic patient records across the NHS has helped to create a more co-ordinated health service, where specialists can see extensive health records for a patient before they come to see them. This means that patient receive the best care, with patient advocates and care plans in place and available to be accessed digitally to ensure that everything is being done with the patient’s best interests in mind.

Healthcare at Home

Patients are calling for more services where they can access healthcare from the comfort of their own home. Jeremy Hunt has called for more CCGs and Trusts to offer Skype consultations for patients who cannot make the journey easily into hospital. For example, a patient who needs constant monitoring could take up a bed at the hospital where there is a greater risk of cross-infection caught from others; or they can stay at home and be monitored remotely, with appointments with specialists carried out over video conferencing services such as Skype.

Conclusion

Patients aren’t asking for anything out of the realm of the NHS’s ability to give. By using technology and digital services as part of the NHS, patients can expect better care through innovation, with services not costing the NHS as much money, taking up less of clinician’s time and helping to meet the expectations of the public. Patients simply want clear, concise information delivered to them in a way that they understand, in a time and place of their choosing.

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