Chris Netherton, M.D.

Involving patients, improving healthcare

The doctor/patient relationship has changed out of all recognition over the past twenty years.

It used to be the case that most patients were very passive. They would go to see their GP, be told about a medical condition that they may not fully understand, and then possibly be given a prescription that they couldn’t even read!

The internet and new technology have changed all that. Today, patients are able to get easy access to a host of up to date information about their particular illness. They are much more likely to ask their GP some really challenging questions. In some cases, patients may become as knowledgeable about their illness as some of the professionals who are treating them.

However, this has also opened up the opportunity for the GP and patient to work in partnership in order to deliver the best possible outcome.

This is something that the NHS is trying to actively encourage. They recognise that when a patient is fully involved in their care, it often leads to a better overall care experience and a better quality of outcome. (And, of course, it is vital that we all take responsibility for our health and for helping to manage any illness, if we are to relieve some of the strain on our healthcare system.)

The stated aims of the NHS in this area are:

  • To give patients the power to manage their own health and make informed decisions about their care and treatment;
  • To support patients to improve their health and give them the best opportunity to lead the life that they want.

At Microtest, we spend a great deal of our time creating the software systems that enable patients to become more involved in their care, but it is vital to develop these in conjunction with GPs and their patients, so that we can be sure that we are delivering the best solution for all concerned. One such example is The Waiting Room 2, which took over two years and a million pound investment to develop. This system also helps to support the NHS’s drive to give patients better online access to health services.

In essence, The Waiting Room 2 allows patients to:

  • Book their own appointments online
  • View their GP records securely online;
  • Order repeat prescriptions without the need to visit the surgery.

It may sound simple, but I think services like these are at the forefront of a coming revolution in the way patients think and act about their healthcare. Once you start giving people the tools that they need to become more involved, it tends to trigger a hunger for more and more involvement.

Take the example of online banking. It used to be the case that you could just do a very limited number of tasks, such as checking your balance. Today, people expect to be able to pay bills, make money transfers, and have a host of tools available to them to analyse and track their spending.

Imagine a future where accessing their latest electronic patient medical records to check their progress in dealing with a health condition is as natural a daily activity to people as viewing their bank balance or checking their Facebook page. That’s one of the reasons why we have made sure that The Waiting Room 2 can easily be expanded to accommodate the many additional services that we believe will be required in the future.

Another recent Microtest launch is Planned Care, the first collaborative system of its kind to be available across the UK. Sharing care plans across surgeries, hospitals, ambulance services, community care, social services and the police service, this new portal is wholly patient-centric. The patient is able to update their own care plan and treatment plan records, such as diabetic care blood monitoring, asthma peak flow measurements or blood pressures taken at home.

Further evidence of this trend comes from the USA, where estimate that the worldwide market for electronic eHealth monitoring devices for use at home will grow from $2.4 billion in 2016 to just under $5 billion by 2020. As well as general fitness monitors, they predict rapid growth in the use of home devices to enable people to monitor conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.

Patient involvement is here to stay. And that’s a good thing for all of us.