One of the things wrong with the health service is that it doesn’t delight the people who use it.
That might sound like a strange word to use given the NHS regularly deals with illness and death, but if the service it delivers is of a high standard, even the bereaved can be “delighted” at the quality of care given to their loved one.
Most healthcare is adequate (some, as we know from the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry, is shocking), but in many cases the service that patients receive – from waiting times to involvement in decisions about treatment – could be improved significantly.
As Jeremy Hunt settles into his new job as Health Secretary, he will be busily working out how to take forward what his predecessor, Andrew Lansley, started – slicing tens of billions of pounds off the country’s healthcare bill while “transforming” the NHS so that it better serves its patients – at a time when patient demands are rising rapidly.
An impossible task given that it sounds like a contradiction in terms?
Many people think so.
But there is one specific way to make significant improvements to the NHS and save money in the process – and that’s to make much greater use of technology.
Since the last time the health service had a makeover, during the Blair years, technology has leapt ahead. And not only medical technologies, or the “bureaucratic” hospital systems we’ve come to learn about through the failings of the NHS’ National Programme for IT: the internet and social media have revolutionised how we access information and how we communicate with people in all areas of life.
Earlier this year, the Department of Health published its Information Strategy, which promised the availability of online medical records by 2015 and, in time, online access to letters, test results, personal care plans and needs assessments. Such changes, it said, would save the health service nearly £2.5b over a decade.
Last year, NHS medical director Professor Bruce Keogh announced an even more radical plan – to enable patients to consult their GP remotely rather than turning up at the surgery.
Already this is being done by some private doctors – and regular viewers of Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic are now familiar with Dr Christian and Dr Dawn using Skype to “see” someone in discomfort.
Research carried out recently by NHS local, a Birmingham-based digital service for NHS Midlands and East, found that more than half of patients would Skype their GP if the option was available. Although less than one per cent of survey respondents had used video calling to see their doctor, 52 per cent said they would happily do so.
Consulting your GP from the comfort of your front room not only saves you time and money (no travel expenses, no journey or waiting time), it is cost-effective and efficient for the NHS: GPs would be freed up to see in person patients with serious problems.
NHS local, where I am head of strategy, is at the heart of helping to transform the health service by enabling it to engage with patients (as well as staff, providers and commissioners) more frequently using new technology.