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Patient web reviews and ratings: a routine feature of future healthcare?

6 June 2008

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Tom Brownlie
AMSPAR Chief Executive

We all have our routines and habits that we develop over a period of time – for instance, when we get up in the morning. I’m sure we will all find it comforting that the first thing Gordon Brown thinks of when waking is the economy.

Even if I was prime minister, I think the decision as to either muesli or cereal for breakfast would still be my first thought. Not work. It is precisely the worry of work that prevents me getting to sleep at night!

Sadly, those of us in the health sector do not have the luxury of following Billy Connelly’s publicised morning ritual, whereby upon arrival at the workplace one boils the kettle, unfurls the newspaper, etc. There simply isn’t the opportunity for this. Indeed, rather than a slow build-up to activity in the workplace, I find that work spills over into the breakfast routine.

Start your day the health scare way
When the radio alarm goes off, there will inevitably be a health-related story in the news. Flicking through the teletext pages, while munching the aforementioned cereal (or muesli according to mood), an item will no doubt be given over to a health scare or health politics. This gives an idea of what to expect in the email inbox.

Some people stick to a rigid pattern in their work. I knew of one bank manager who strictly adhered to his timetable – and his staff knew never to cause any deviation. Upon arrival at the office he was ensconced in his own private place for the first 45 minutes of the day. No one could knock at his door or put a call through. He dealt purely with his mail and planned the day.

I never could understand what his planning entailed, as each day was to be essentially the same. How many of us would value such a luxury?

Routines have a role to play though. At a recent Management in Practice advisory panel meeting, this topic arose while we were discussing the use of the internet. Many were of the opinion that the practice manager was so busy that there was little time to make use of the tool – while others wondered how to cope without it.

Clicking into action
The web is an invaluable ally when used effectively. And there are probably more websites and pages dedicated to health than any other topic. The BBC has its own health section. The Department of Health (DH) and the NHS have their sites. Both the NHS Alliance and the NHS Confederation run a service, while all the organisations who work with this magazine offer their own.

The AMSPAR website has a bulletin board available to members that scours the internet to collate all health-related news daily. As I write, eight have been posted this morning. And of course, there’s the Management in Practice website (

With all this information available, the practice manager may struggle to know which way to turn. It is a skill in itself wading through the megabytes to find the useful nuggets. But they certainly are there and it’s also there that you may find the future.

User reviews
Taking a look at the NHS gateway, for instance, there are numerous provisions for the patient. This ranges from advice to locating services by postcode search. At present, each practice is listed with a note as to whether patients are being accepted. It will be interesting to see what further information might be listed here in the future. Extended hours? Additional services? Perhaps even a “star rating”?

This is possibly already available when it comes to hospitals. The web user has the ability to call up the hospitals in a particular area and compare their efficiency with regards to specific operations. This is on the assumption that the data are correct. Those tackling practice-based commissioning will be aware of the difficulty of obtaining accurate data in order to make properly informed judgements.

Download discoveries …
The DH also offers a useful service to practices. Here you can download and order material for health campaigns and information. These are always useful in helping to keep the waiting room fresh, rather than have patients staring at the same old posters.

Also available here is the “GP and Practice Team Bulletin”. Issued on a monthly basis, this will keep you bang up-to-date. The May edition carries information on the new pharmacy white paper and its relationship to practices. Of course, many will already have a view as to where this might all fit in with regards to Lord Darzi’s upcoming Next Stage Review and the
polyclinic concept.

Another interesting site is that of Virgin Healthcare. Here you can learn about the Virgin ethos and their partnership plans: “We will preserve the most valued elements of NHS practice, allowing the GPs to ensure patient continuity of care.” And also: “Premises will be located so that they are still close by to where patients live.” If you are so inclined, you can look at their jobs page, where a banner proudly proclaims that the first centre will open in the M4 corridor in 2008.

… but don’t stop talking
So the web can be an invaluable instrument in your day-to-day work, and I would recommend setting aside a short time everyday to make use of it. But it can never replace the most valuable source of information of all – networking with your colleagues. Many of us learned of Virgin Healthcare’s plans at such a meeting a long time ago …