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Handing power to patients and professionals

As the fallout from the Francis Report continues to echo around the health sector it was refreshing to note an event recently which was purely aimed at innovating health care rather than indulging in recriminations.  Think tank Reform got together with Imperial College’s Institute of Global Health Innovation to draw attention to some of the positive innovations around the world which we may be able to learn from within the UK’s health sector.

Acknowledging that innovation can be defined in many ways, the event focused on three fundamental innovations which could improve the quality of care and patient outcome throughout the health service; workforce innovation, self care and personalised medication.

A shift towards personalised medication is only possible thanks to the leaps which science has taken in understanding the human genome.  With a greater understanding of personal risk factors comes the ability to target treatment on an individual basis.  We are already starting to see the benefit of targeted treatments in areas such as cancer and as our understanding grows the potential for more effective treatments is limitless.

Personalised medication does in part require a buy-in from the patient in understanding the risks of certain life styles and family traits and the next step is logically to encourage patients to take more responsibility for their care.  Self-diagnosis, arranging appointments directly with health professionals such as physiotherapists, managing self-treatment programmes is a step forward in understanding for patients but it will help to streamline the health service and target care where it is most needed.  For example, a patient with muscle or ligament damage needs to see a physiotherapist or osteopath straight away and making them travel the health nurse/doctor route first is a waste of resources and time.

This leads on to the third and most important change which the UK’s health services desperately needs, that of workforce innovation.  Doing away with rigid hierarchies and instead focusing on the individual patient means doctors, health care workers and support services all providing a flexible individual service.  Beacon Health Strategies, working with the poor, elderly and mentally ill in the USA has done just that. Over three years the flexible approach has reduced emergency hospital appointments by 60%, reduced suicide rates by a half and got 44% into work.

Innovation within the health sector won’t be easy.  It will require a sweeping away of the old hierarchies and a combined doctor/health professional service which is flexible and focused on patient care.  Those health professionals who have taken steps to outsource telephone answering, diary management and patient records and who are therefore able to maximise the time which they spend on patient care are in a perfect position to step forward into the new innovative, personalised era.

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