How better communication between GPs and patients can boost self care

GPs should take steps to improve communication with patients, including making use of social media, to develop better relationships and enable self care, patient campaigner Kate Allatt told the RCGP annual conference.

Ms Allatt suffered a stroke at the age of 39 in 2010 and went on to suffer locked-in syndrome, which she said was ‘like being buried alive’. Against all predictions from medical staff, she managed to regain speech and mobility in less than a year.

Since then she has worked to help people in similar situations and championed the cause of empowering patients with the knowledge, skills and confidence to better self-manage their conditions.

Ms Allatt said that improved communication between health professionals and patients resulted in better relationships and outcomes.

She suggested a range of measures GPs and practices could take to improve patient communication, including keeping an informal diary about particular patients to help GPs ‘track what’s normal symptoms for that particular patient’. She herself had never suffered from migraines and this was one of the symptoms she presented with when she had her stroke and was sent home.

Practices should also consider using closed Facebook groups to help patients mentor and support each other.

‘I have them with my charity and it works really well,’ she said ‘Peers mentor each other so they don’t need to come to the GPs so often if they’ve got other people to talk to about their issues.’

Super mentor clinics

She suggested that practices establish ‘super mentor clinics’, which could help reduce pressure on services. ‘People like to hear from other credible people that they can relate to,’ she said. ‘There is an opportunity to set up self care clinics.’

Ms Allatt said that the patient activation measure, a questionnaire that assesses the knowledge, skills and confidence people have in managing their own health and healthcare, was a useful tool. The questionnaire is currently being piloted in some CCG areas.

'It provides a snapshot, but it also shows areas where we might perhaps be able to provide more knowledge so people can more self-confidently manage their condition,' she said.

Facebook could also be used to communicate with patients about the number of appointments that had been missed and what that equates to in cost that could otherwise have been spent on patient care. ‘It might be an informal way of getting that message across,’ she said.

Ms Allatt also said that practices should consider installing instant feedback machines.

‘Do you have instant ratings so that patients can rate your service?’ she asked. ‘Is this not a good way a simple way for people at the exit to have their say. You may not want to hear it but at least it’s a base point on which you can improve. Report back on your social media how you have used the feedback.’

She said that lay people think about GP practices as customers think about any other service. ‘I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s the view we have.’

YouTube videos could also be used to educate people about the symptoms of various illnesses, signpost places where patients could get support for assisted living devices or to help people understand how the referral system worked, Ms Allatt said.

Full coverage of RCGP annual conference

Photo: Pete Hill

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