Self care: part two - Harnessing patient power in self care

Dr Beth McCarron-Nash explains how patients can become involved.

Patients have very good reasons to embrace the concept of self-care. Many will already have experienced for themselves the reality of the ballooning GP workload.

As a practising GP, I am familiar with workload challenges. One way we can manage this is to try to treat patients as partners in their care.

Whether this is put into practice through techniques such as same side of desk consultations or joint decision-making, the important thing is that patients are made aware of the need to optimise their own health and are given the 'permission' and the tools to do so.

Patient participation

Whether the ailment is minor or long-term, patients who know about their health achieve better outcomes. Involving patients in their health decision-making helps them to be healthy and in control.

Patient participation groups (PPGs), which are run by patients for patients, are an excellent way to help practices gear up for self-care.

Generally, PPGs are very open to the self-care message: as patients, they want to know more about their symptoms, feel less anxious and more confident about the management path ahead, and minimise trips to the GP surgery.

PPGs can also help GPs to manage patient demand and expectation. Many are aware of spiralling workloads and the huge demands being placed on their own practices.

Our Lander Medical Practice PPG has been involved in the annual self-care awareness week that is run by the practice to tie in with national self-care week.

Other ideas to boost self-care include giving patients who consult with a self-manageable condition a self-care prescription, comprising printed information (see box).

How to promote self-care
  • Get involved in the annual self-care awareness week
  • Where appropriate, offer patients a self-care prescription. This can answer basic questions, such as:
    - How long might these symptoms last?
    - What do I need to look out for?
    - What can I do to help myself?
    - What can I do to prevent problems in future?
  • Ask the PPG to contribute ideas for self-care awareness education
  • Employ PPG champions to reach hard-to-engage groups
  • Distribute GP-endorsed self-care fact sheets

Ideas to improve PPG involvement include asking the PPG to contribute ideas for self-care awareness education classes and employing PPG champions in local outreach work with groups and communities that do not typically engage with the NHS.

Resources

These efforts can be supported by the range of resources available from the Self Care Forum (selfcareforum.org), including GP-endorsed self-care fact sheets, which can also be distributed in community centres, businesses, shops and libraries.

Supermarkets and other settings with high footfall can be approached to give up space for a self-care information stand. Other PPGs can be asked to pool resources.

PPGs are uniquely placed to have an essential role in empowering patients to access appropriate information that supports informed decision-making about treatment.

They can encourage other patients to support their own health, taking the self-care campaign out to the local community.

  • Dr McCarron-Nash is a GPC negotiator, a GP in Truro, Cornwall, and a self-care advocate

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