1. THE PATIENTíS EXPERIENCE

One of the key aims of any modern health service is to provide high quality services which are responsive to patientsí needs and wishes. Patients rightfully expect accessible, good quality health care, delivered consistently to high standards. The public expects to see the health service meeting the same standards for convenience, friendliness and getting good results that they experience every day in their use of other services that are part of their daily lives.

All too often we hear of problems experienced by patients accessing health services. Often itís about poor communication Ė either between hospital staff and patient, or providers of care (GPs and hospitals). Similarly patients commonly express concern and disappointment about lack of co-ordination in treatment regimes, which can result in repeat visits to hospital. And how dreary those visits to hospital can be. Tired old buildings. Departments scattered in different parts of the hospital. Confusing signposting. These problems, together with frequently expressed concerns over waiting times and difficulties accessing specialist services highlight the significant scope which exists for improving the quality of services and patientsí perceptions of them.

So how can we improve the patientís experience? The starting point must be to aim to ensure that every aspect of the planning and delivery of health services is designed from the patientís perspective. It helps by breaking down organisational barriers and improving communication among the different groups of staff involved in an individual patientís care, and in speeding up the processes of diagnosis and treatment. Designing services from the patientís perspective allows staff to provide individualised care to patients in the way that they would wish, while ensuring that their privacy and dignity are respected.

The development of information technology has opened up new possibilities for improving the quality and reliability of care by enabling more effective co-ordination. The advent of telemedicine, for example, can significantly improve accessibility, allowing the service and expertise to be brought to the patient. Through the use of video links with hospital-based specialists, consultation can take place in the GPís surgery, the clinic or even sometimes within the patientís own home. The co-ordination of care can also be improved through the use of electronic systems for faster and more efficient appointment booking, transfer of records and transmission of test results.

New technology and better scheduling of services are also enabling the development of One Stop Clinics at which all tests can be carried out during a single visit and results and diagnosis Ė where possible Ė can be provided on the same day. GPs will soon all be electronically linked to hospitals to improve communications and the aim is to give them better access to hospital out-patient appointment systems.

How do our proposals help? Firstly thereís no doubt that using modern facilities gives a boost to most people. But theyíre just a means to an end. Modern well-designed facilities and larger better staffed teams of specialist staff make it easier to concentrate services around the patient. Our present pattern of scattered facilities and over-stretched staff make good scheduling and prompt responses much more difficult to achieve.

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