Only respect for patients will make digital work

I was at a couple of events this week which put forward grand ideas about the future of healthcare.  Visionary, aspirational and of course digital.  So why is it not happening?

This simple test I did with the audience at King’s Fund illustrates:  Stand up if you have flown this year.  Two thirds rise.  Sit down if you booked your flight online.  Every single person sat down.  Now stand up if you have seen your GP this year.  Again, two thirds rise.  Sit down if you booked the consultation online.  You guessed it, only a handful took their seats.

The vision, from Downing St downwards, is for health care to be digital, and it should be so much simpler than booking flights, but it’s miles behind.  So why the gap?

I think it’s a lack of respect for patients.  The vast majority act sensibly when seeking help from their GP, and they want to help their GP too, not waste their time.  We get lots of feedback along the lines of this one, “I like it as I am able to ask a question but not take up an appointment time for someone in more need of actually seeing a GP.”

Policy makers in contrast tell us how digital means patients will be diverted from their GP, they just need to get some patient education and learn all about self care.  We’ve heard this for decades, it’s highly seductive, and it simply won’t work.  Wishful thinking that it will reduce demand drives a digital design ethic which fobs patients off  They get the message, they respond quite reasonably and intelligently by ignoring it.

The secret is to make it easier for patients to use the most efficient channel, and easier for GPs to respond.  We’ve seen a shift of over 20% in several practices, but there is so much more to do in overcoming fear.

I liked what Bob Wachter said this week:  “Digital is not for the purpose of digitising, but for improvement.”

Harry Longman


PS Many other Europeans are big fans of the NHS.  We have much to contribute at the European Forum EFPC conference in Riga, Latvia, 4-6 September. Do join.

PPS “Seeking help from your GP online” talk at King’s Fund here

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