Last month I had the pleasure of participating in the Inaugural WCG roundtable on Access with a panel representative of a range of stakeholders encompassing health policy, healthcare management, economics and communications with an audience that included members of the pharmaceutical industry.
We all agreed that access was much more than just the issue and challenge of access to a new healthcare treatment; it also embraces access to health service provision, financial and manpower resource, access to technology, information and multiple stakeholders.
Some of my colleagues have already drawn out some of these themes in previous blog posts and I wanted to expand on the concept of access to information – and more directly access of patients to information. In the developed world there has been a significant overall shift in healthcare in the last couple of decades towards improving quality of life, with patients and populations being more demanding and wanting to see greater value from their healthcare, but do they have access to the right information that could effectively inform their individual decision-making?
The education provided to patients about a medical condition, its management and treatment varies tremendously – and the way that information is provided is also highly variable. Indeed, if we could improve the communication between a patient and their doctor, and if clinical management was based purely on evidence and cost-effectiveness there is a view that we could afford most, if not all, our necessary health needs – why? One reason put forward by economists is that we would see dramatic reductions in waste, not least because of improved patient adherence to medication, but also in terms of more effective use of healthcare resources, including manpower as well as appropriate use of new technology.
We are now in an environment where patient and doctor often access the same information through their use of Google – which is not only the number one source for patients to find out about a condition or to self-diagnose, but has also been shown to be most doctors first reference source when looking up a diagnosis and potential management options; surely this creates an environment whereby patients and doctors can access the same information and use this to create more meaningful and impactful dialogue, leading to better management and improved outcomes.
However, the challenge to all stakeholders involved in educating and communicating with patients is to work together to ensure that online education is of high quality, easily accessible and understood by the public, not just doctors and preferably produced in partnership – this means bringing together patients, patient advocacy representatives, healthcare professionals, policy makers and healthcare providers together with relevant industry partners.
Healthcare information has to stop being a lottery – the better a patient understands their situation, the better they can self-manage, make informed decisions about their healthcare provision – and then improve outcomes (which are important to the patient, not just to the doctor or the healthcare provider – what are appropriate and effective outcome measures is another theme for another discussion!).