Change seems to be happening all the time. New appointment systems….new drugs….new doctors….new meetings about changes that are happening….the flu season is about to start. So when are the Winter Flu Vaccinations going to start and do you (or your family) need them? And how can you learn about how you can gain a better understanding of your own health and that of your family? Do you also need access to your GP electronic health records too when others do not seem to have it?
It’s all very confusing, isn’t it? So how do you keep up to date with everything that is happening? Traditionally you would learn about what is happening by coming to see your GP and find out from them. Perhaps whilst you are waiting in the waiting room and see one of the plethora of posters on the wall. But how up to date are they? And any way have you not got better things to be doing rather than having to come to the surgery? Surely in the modern information age, there may be better ways of finding out what is going on without having to book an appointment with the doctor to find out?
In an attempt to try to find out what patients wanted, we sent out an online questionnaire to all the patients with access to their GP electronic health record to complete. Here is what we learned:
Overall 134 patients completed an online questionnaire which they were invited to complete. They received the request via email. There was a fair spread of patients ranging in age between 20 and 90+ although the majority were between 60-69 with a slight preponderance of females and slightly more based at Thornley House Medical Centres.
Obtaining trusted information about their health was considered the most important for the majority of patients. Unsurprisingly since the request to complete the questionnaire was by email, the vast majority of patients completing the questionnaire also wanted to learn about developments in the NHS and in the practice via email too. However the practice website www.htmc.co.uk, posters and messages on the TV screen were also cited as important other places to learn from too. Less than 1 in 5 patients cited practice staff as being important in informing them about what was going on.
Text messages, email and facebook were the commonest methods of electronic communication used by patients. But when it came to websites, the patients were almost twice as likely to go to the practice website www.htmc.co.uk for health information rather than google. NHS Direct was the next most likely website with NHS Choices and Patient.co.uk least likely.
There were a wide range of reasons why people would go to the website looking for health information such as transactional services (ordering prescriptions, accessing their GP electronic health records) as well as finding telephone numbers and opening times for the surgery (Haughton Vale or Thornley House), finding what other services are available, learning how to self care more, learning more about conditions and treatments and also find out what is happening in the practice and with the Patient Participation Group at Haughton Vale surgery as well as Thornley House Medical Centre. A handful of patients claimed they had never gone to a website to learn about their health. The majority of patients found the information on the practice website www.htmc.co.uk very useful.
Social Media is changing the way people learn and share information with others. As digital services become more readily available to all, it opens up new opportunities that hitherto did not exist. However, presently over half the patients were not using social media (Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook). However Facebook was used by almost 40% of patients with a smaller number on Twitter and LinkedIn. However almost 80% of patients were keen to help support initiatives that may improve communication in the practice. Amongst those who had time to help, the greatest preference was via email although a significant number were also keen for a face-to-face meeting.
Reassuringly almost 90% of respondents would recommend the practice to others suggesting this group of patients are in general happier with the services they are receiving.
There are some caveats to this survey. In particular the survey was emailed out to patients who already have signed up for access to their records (just over 1900 patients out of a patient population of about 11900 patients). This excludes patients who do not have access to the internet and have not yet signed up for access to their GP electronic health records. Unfortunately due to pressure in the practice, it is not possible to contact people through other means, collate their views and add them to this list. However patients are increasingly signing up for access to their records and hence their views are being heard and acted upon. There are of course other methods for patients to voice their opinions eg via the Patient Participation Group, via letters to the Practice Manager and through interactions with practice staff. But these are less direct and it is difficult to get targeted information in this manner.
We will consider these findings as we determine the next steps for the practice website and in particular the role Social Media (eg facebook and twitter) may have to play in supporting patients and their families, keeping people informed and enabling them to make “better” health choices for themselves and their loved ones.
The award-winning practice-based web-portal www.htmc.co.uk has been designed from the ground up in collaboration with patients and the clinicians in the practice with help from Glen Griffiths to help support patients and their families get the best from the local NHS by signposting trusted information that the practice has vouched for with transactional services and information gleaned from patients, managers and clinicians locally. It includes national information such as NHS Choices, Map of Medicine, patient.co.uk and NHS Direct with locally derived information too (such as this webpage). Its purpose is to support patients and their carers to make sense of the information before them to help them to determine next steps for themselves and their loved ones. Increasingly better informed patients are likely to get better outcomes with less wastage, less time wasted, reducing health inequalities by making more information to be readily accessible by those who need it, saving money for themselves and enabling precious resources to be used elsewhere. This will also include reducing the carbon footprint by helping people to spend less time in healthcare establishments and more time with family, friends and working to sustain themselves and ultimately the planet. The practice website is wholly funded by Haughton Thornley Medical Centres and does not have any advertising associated with it (but cannot take responsibility for 3rd party websites linked to it that may contain advertising).
The practice-based web portal supports a Partnership of Trust bringing together the patient, the clinician and the information supporting them.