We must make the digital, personal

I was at King’s Fund Digital Congress last week where Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, implored us to remember the centrality in medicine of the relationship between clinician and patient.  She coined this wonderful phrase, “We must make the digital, personal.”

Very similar thoughts from Charles Alessi at Commissioning Show on Thursday, who said GPs must fight to retain the personal relationships of local general practice, on the grounds that it is under threat.

Strangely in the last ten days I’ve had people in three different bits of government/NHS ask for ideas and evidence broadly on the question of how to increase “digital participation” by patients (I really ought to start charging them).  Reflecting on the above, the questions are intimately connected.

Anxiety of some sort drives us to seek medical help, and above all we need to trust the source of that help.  While digital can be a lower cost channel, it is doomed to fail if it is seen as a transactional rather than a personal service.  No one will trust it or use it.

Let me add another imperative:  we must make the personal, practical.  First we have to squash the idea that “personal” costs more.  Yes, relationships are costly but if that’s the best way to address the problem, the alternatives are worse (patients generate rework demand until their anxiety is sated).

We’ve been gathering evidence on how a rapid and personal service draws patients to use the digital channel.  I’ve put some notes here with the surprise finding of how many choose to name an individual clinician.

The key point is that having that choice, from their own practice, instils trust, changes the flow, and only then enables cost savings.

Let’s make the digital, personal and the personal, practical.

Harry Longman
Founder, Chief Executive
GP Access Ltd

PS Good news for Jeremy Hunt this week.  Julian Patterson has worked out how to create his 5,000 extra GPs with the GPnomes project.

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