Patient-centred care

Patient-centred care has long been an ambition of health reform. However international comparisons have consistently shown that the NHS has performed poorly on scores of patient experience and responsiveness. In July 2013 Reform partnered with Novo Nordisk to explore how true patient-centred care can become a reality. The seminar was led by Neil Churchill, National Director of Patient Experience at NHS England.

Decentralised Care

NHS England has made improving patients’ experience of care a key priority and in recent years there have been a number of initiatives to make the NHS more customer focused. The introduction of the Friends and Family Test is seen as a major opportunity to harness the voice of the customer. A number of providers are adopting techniques commonly used in the private sector to improve customer service. Reforms to make the system more decentralised and expand choice and competition will mean that providers respond to patient expectations and put the customer first. However there are still major challenges such as dealing with complaints and acting on feedback. Improving the experience of primary care, which still remains a cottage industry of small providers, and the experience of the whole patient journey, are seen as particular priorities.

Empowering Patients

However improving the customer experience cannot simply become a bolt on to existing NHS services. As the seminar revealed, the NHS needs to empower patients as consumers of healthcare and not simply make the NHS more customer aware. While providers have started to adopt tools to harness patient voice and make services more customer friendly unless there is widespread cultural change in the service these improvements will only have limited benefit. Too many NHS leaders still do not prioritise “what patients want” and changing this mindset will only occur if patients demand it. Measuring patient perceptions of healthcare is not just to make the NHS understand patients but help patients understand the NHS.

The Contribution of Consumers

Patient-centred care can also harness the contribution of consumers to improve their care.

If services can be improved they have to work for the patients that need them. For example, rather than joining up services to make the patient pathway more joined up, patients should be given the tools and confidence to make the transitions between services. Yet in other sectors of the economy consumers have had to develop the confidence to take a more active role and become more demanding. By contrast the NHS too often fails to mobilise the patient perspective or understand the values and motivations that guide patient behaviour. Uncovering and understanding these drivers, and where necessary segmenting the patient population, will be a big first step to being a consumer driven service.