Healthcare app

The doctor will be rated by you now...

By: SA Mathieson
Published: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 10:11 GMT Jump to Comments

Health and social care providers may be resistant to innovations that benefit patients, but they are making an exception for online feedback services

As discussed last week, the National Health Service has a poor record when it comes to introducing innovative technologies for patients. For the NHS, suppliers are more likely to succeed by selling things that will help medical professionals.

There are some exceptions, which benefit both patients and practitioners by linking them more efficiently. A new version of England’s GP Systems of Choice framework, introduced this spring, has forced the dominant suppliers of GP software such as Emis to support plug-ins from other companies. This has given an opening to small firms including the memorably titled Wiggly Amps, named after an RAF term for advanced electronics and software. Its managing director is a former pilot, and the company provides interactive websites for surgeries and check-in arrival screens. However, GPSoC’s new contracts are now in place until the end of 2016.

Gathering feedback from patients provides more scope for innovation, and does not need to be tightly integrated with existing systems. Furthermore, as a result of scandals over poor treatment and a belief that patients should behave as informed customers, Westminster is firmly in favour of the concept. And while a few organisations are working to become TripAdvisor equivalents for the NHS, none yet dominate.

Many NHS organisations across the UK, along with some social care providers in England, use Patient Opinion.  This web-based service, set up a decade ago by Sheffield GP Paul Hodgkin, collects ‘patient stories’ and allows providers to respond. Patient Opinion, which has been in operation for more than decade, passes on all the feedback it receives but charges providers for a premium service. It takes some care with what it publishes, checking all patient stories before publication.

It is not alone. The NHS in England has recently commissioned MySociety, known for its MP-monitoring service TheyWorkForYou.com, to set up Care Connect. This aims to be a ‘real time’ feedback mechanism, modelled on New York City’s 311 telephone service. It is wider in scope than Patient Opinion, providing information and answering questions as well as fielding complaints, and it accepts these through social media including Twitter and Facebook and well as the web. It is currently being tested by 18 NHS trusts in London and the north-east.

Finally, some trusts have set up their own: Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has built Android, iPhone and BlackBerry apps to let patients and carers comment on its services, with comments sent directly to the relevant manager. The comments (without patient names) and responses are published on the trust’s website.

While Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s approach towards listening to patients is commendable, building apps and other mechanisms for just one hospital sounds expensive. National services such as Patient Opinion (which the trust also lists as a feedback mechanism) and Care Connect look like better models, and also provide a degree of independence. But there may well be room for others.

In theory, overseas companies such as the US ZocDoc which could be among them – but as a for-profit company, it might stumble. Patient Opinion and MySociety are both not-for-profit, and the allergic reaction of both public and many politicians to anyone making money out of the NHS means this area may be best-suited to social enterprises.

You may be interested to read Ben Gowland: Is the Better Care Fund preventing integration rather than promoting it? Good, collaborative relationships and whole system sign up are key to effective health and care integration, improved care outcomes and success for the Better Care Fund

Self-care may benefit patients but don't expect the NHS to pay for it (TheInformationDaily.com, July 2014)

England’s GP Systems of Choice framework

Patient Opinion

Care Connect

Birmingham Children’s Hospital feedback apps

ZocDoc (US)

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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