Chris Netherton, M.D.

Helping patients to play a more active role in their healthcare

Today, it is becoming more accepted that patients and doctors should act in partnership to achieve better health outcomes. Technology has a vital role to play in helping to make that happen.

There has been a great deal of discussion about patient empowerment over recent years. The medical profession realises that there is huge value in having a patient who is informed about, and engaged in, their healthcare. Patients are much more likely to take ownership and responsibility for their health and to work proactively with their doctor to monitor their symptoms and take the action needed to improve their condition. Indeed, this kind of mindset can be crucial in identifying illnesses at an early stage, before they become acute.

Progressive doctors are recognising this and actively promoting higher patient empowerment. They recognise that this is one of the ways in which some of the pressure on our healthcare system can be alleviated.

Over the last decade there has been a huge growth in the resources available for people to educate themselves about their health. It has become much easier for people to obtain the information they need in order to make good decisions about their health. Data such as BMI, cholesterol levels and blood pressure readings can now be well understood by the layman – and acted upon. And new technology is playing its part in supporting this trend.

A great example of patient empowerment in action has been the advent of telehealth health pods. These are usually located in the surgery reception area and they allow patients to carry out unsupervised questionnaires and checks for conditions such as blood pressure, BMI, epilepsy, and asthma. It is easy for adults to learn how to use the system and once the checks have been completed they can be automatically recorded in the patient’s electronic health record. This saves valuable time for the GP on routine monitoring and recording and it means that the consultation itself can focus on diagnosis and care planning.

At Microtest, our Open Evolution clinical software has integrations with two of the market-leading systems of telehealth health pods. These are Surgery Pod and Health Monitor. What I love about these systems is that they are very straightforward and unintimidating for the patient to use. Once more patients become comfortable using equipment like this, I am sure that it will help fuel demand for more telehealth monitoring devices at home.

These systems are the perfect complement to Microtest’s own ‘The Waiting Room’. This module allows patients to book their own appointments at published clinics without needing to contact practice staff. Using this online system, they can choose to see a specific GP or book an appointment with whoever is available at their preferred time. ‘The Waiting Room’ also enables them to request repeat prescriptions and view aspects of their coded GP record.

This demand from patients for more involvement is going hand in hand with rapid advances in wearable health monitoring devices which can be linked to smartphones and tablets. Concurrent with this the Health Secretary has recently stated that over the next year he wants day-to-day health administration to be available to patients via apps. These apps would cover appointments, NHS 111 services, organ donor registration, repeat medication and end of life care plan preferences. The system would also allow people to access their full electronic health record.

It is exciting to think that this kind of patient empowerment, which still feels so novel to many of us right now, will be second nature to the next generation.