The challenge of healthcare communication and patient empowerment

By Dr Amir Hannan

Patient empowerment is fundamental to unlocking the potential that exists in all of us and to free up vital resources within healthcare to be used where they are needed most. The IOM report “Crossing the quality chasm: a new health system for the 21st century” provides rules for private and public health purchasers, health care organisations, clinicians and patients who should work together to redesign health care processes in accordance with:

  1. Care based on continuing healing relationships.
  2. Customisation based on patient needs and values.
  3. The patient as the source of control.
  4. Shared knowledge and the free flow of information.
  5. Evidence-based decision-making.
  6. Safety as a system property.
  7. The need for transparency.
  8. Anticipation of needs.
  9. Continuous decrease in waste
  10. Co-operation among clinicians

Sir Muir Gray in 2006 described a future in 2011 which would move us towards being patient-centred, focused on delivering value through evidence-based pathways, clinical networks and systems driven by knowledge, systematic reviews and with clinical practice being central to driving change.

The Internet is now becoming widely available to all via their PC, tablet, smartphone or through the local library, community centre etc. Now “the Power of Information” demonstrates the need to connect people to their information and what this could achieve. The challenge though is how to help the masses to help understand their health information and hence become empowered.

Haughton Thornley Medical Centres has been enabling patients to access their records and gain a better understanding of their health. Patients are encouraged to get activated, enabled, informed and empowered through accessing their records and the practice-based web portal This provides a simple interface informing patients and the public about developments in the practice, linking national and regional information with local information and activities going on inside the practice that may benefit them. In so doing, patients can learn how to make the most of the information they have. Co-producing the information with patients brings them into the centre of their own care so that they begin to inform patients in conjunction with the practice – a Partnership of Trust which is what we are all about.

What are the results? Over 1,900 patients currently accessing their records – 16 per cent of the patient population; 22 per cent of diabetic patients, 26 per cancer patients, 17 per cent of pregnant patients and 9 per cent of Bengali patients as well as national recognition.

This is just the start. There is so much that we can now do: profiling patients; understanding their behavior; sharing their experiences so that others may benefit; streamlining the processes; bringing to the fore relevant information; creating the case to re-direct funds and resources to support such work driving change through clinicians and management; encouraging patients to self care and increase their capacity and capability to do more for themselves; presenting earlier to healthcare services before costs mount and health needs worsen; improving lifestyle and in so doing help prevent or delay long term conditions will help us all to deliver future healthcare services now.

Are we up for the challenge?

Dr Amir Hannan, Full-time General Practitioner, member of the Health Informatics Clinical Advisory Team, NHS North-West, member of the Self Care Forum and a friend of the Cumberland Initiative,

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