A ‘TripAdvisor′ style ratings site for English hospitals has recently been released – claiming to reveal the number of people who would ‘recommend′ A&E and in-patient units to their friends and family.
The government says it is the first time the NHS has reported a single measure of patient satisfaction for every hospital. It claims it is “the boldest move yet to promote real openness in the NHS and to concentrate our focus on improvement in care.”
But is that really enough?
As the son of someone with Lupus, who was able to have the best treatment through being on friendly terms with top specialists in the field, I am keenly aware that there is a need for patients in the UK to be able to be more proactive in sourcing their treatment and physicians, in order to get best results.
This country lacks any service that effectively joins the dots for patients between NHS and private healthcare services. Patients are generally guided only to do as they are told; and if they have no money, they have no choices.
The quality of your healthcare is based on a mixture of luck, being in the know or being friends with a surgeon of doctor who can link you in with right people. There is very little web assistance to guide patients across private & NHS healthcare provision options side by side – helping them with important questions (as the Mid Staffs scandal has proven), like which hospital is the best place for their treatment? Which physician is the expert in their field? Should they go NHS or private?
This is exactly where the capabilities that online provides can change the whole British healthcare landscape and help patients understand their choices fully.
What British healthcare requires is an easy-to-use website or app that allows users to input treatments or conditions and compare rated services and specialists in the both the NHS and private heathcare field. This should really be a government initiative, but if funded by private investors, it could provide a profitable model by treating hospitals as customers and licensing websites ratings logos and trademarks to use in their marketing promotions. Another profit stream could be generated by providing ad space on site – for hospitals, medical services and suppliers.
There are a variety of obstacles, some significant, that stand in the way. The most important obstacle is the difficulty in gaining support from reputable bodies such as the British Medical Association, hospitals and physicians. The hostility from the NHS to private hospitals can appear insurmountable at times, and is certainly detectable to patients who request transfers from NHS hospitals to private wards (despite the value in freeing up beds). But it is the job of government to coerce service providers into playing nicely together to enable visionary project that will help the public; and sometimes the job of deep-pocketed investors to entice them to.
There is also the matter of accessing and distilling the necessary data in order to provide ratable hospital services, which would be a Herculean task in itself, as red tape and privacy requirements go hand-in-hand with the world of medical treatment.
So how to create a website that gives betterhealthcare choices for the UK? A site that could be used by those preparing themselves for minor surgery, major surgery, an appointment with a consultant, or who want a second opinion, or people are new to their area and want to explore the medical services in their community?
The first step is to examine models in the USA (albeit these don’t have to worry about the issues of NHS vs private healthcare). For example, Healthgrades.com includes ratings of hospitals services, doctors and dentists. It is widely used in the USA, but is not easy to understand and rather inflexible. The UK’s own NHS Choices website is a basic route map of choices, but with no depth of data provided. Then there is the Drfosters site, which provides a very superficial and clunky route into nhs and private hospitals offerings patient research.
The question is: exactly how could a website really improve the UK’s healthcare choices?
It could do this by showing both patient and independent assessor starred ratings of every hospital across both NHS and private trusts, with ratings for cleanliness, an opportunity for former patients to comment on the care provided by the doctors and nurses who treated them, the facilities, the length of the waiting times, and many other key considerations.
It would show national rankings for each hospital, as well as the ranking of each hospital’s departments and the specialists within that department. For example, it might show that The Manor Hospital in Oxford came first in the country for pediatrics cancer treatment, but fifth for pediatrics gastrentorology.
It would display all the physicians in the hospital by department, alongside patient ratings. Each physician’s image would be clickable, taking the patient through to an infographic of their career biography, and letting patients know were and when they are currently consulting, both privately and with the NHS. The physician’s rating section might read, for instance, that “As of July 2013, all of this department’s 12 senior consultant practitioners weretop-rated professionals”. There would also be a moderated patient review message board. Hospitals could choose to display their site-rating badge on their own websites.
The only way this could possibly work is if physicians whole-heartedly embraced this level of clarity and transparency, from professors, to surgeons, nurses, to hospital counsellors, to chairpeople of the British Medical Association.
It would require working hand-in-glove with BUPA and other private healthcare providers on a level-playing field with NHS hospitals, regardless of the natural advantages of each sphere. All the medical stakeholders would have to be determined to help cut through red tape and usher in an age of true healthcare transparency.It would need to complement the present (rather slim) NHS Choices offering and be user-friendly through and through. Will it be done? Well, there are a lot of vested interests in patients not being able to easily compare different healthcare choices and physicians side-by-side.
Can it be done? Hell yes.
Jono Marcus is a partner and digital director at creative marketing agency Inkling