The informed patient in the UK is now not only finding access to top quality medical information and treatment options for their diagnosis, but is being offered a choice of consultant with whom to have their treatment on the NHS.
Choosing your consultant, be they a surgeon, gynaecologist or oncologist, used to be the reserve of those who could pay for their medical treatment but since 2005 patients receiving free healthcare have been able to choose and book with the consultant of their choice. This service, run by the NHS, will be expanded in April when all NHS hospitals will be required to publish information and statistics on their doctors and treatment services allowing patients to make a fair and informed choice about where to receive their treatment.
Critics of the scheme have highlighted that patients may have found it hard to find what treatments may be suitable for them and what may or may not be available, however the new measures put in place by Andrew Lansley are aimed to reduce this stress by providing patients with an informed choice and putting the control in the hands of the patients, rather than the GPs.
Choose and Book works by a patient and GP agreeing on a diagnosis and that treatment is necessary; this is followed by the patient searching for their hospital and consultant and then choosing a specific appointment time and date that it suitable for them. This can be completed at the GP surgery, over the phone, or on the internet, allowing time for the patient to read up on their condition and make the decision that is right for them. In order to use the service online or on the phone the patient will need the appointment letter and password provided to them by their GP.
What are the pros and cons of Choose and Book?
- Patient chooses place, date and time of appointment – this can be changed if necessary as all appointments and referrals are tracked
- Waiting times at the different clinics can be seen on the system allowing patients to be seen more quickly
- The ability of being able to book an appointment directly with a hospital means that there is no need for patients to follow-up with their GP for an appointment and cuts out the middleman making a smooth system from patient – GP – Consultant
- No paper needed – saving time and money and making it more environmentally friendly
- May not be a suitable or appropriate service for the elderly, mentally disabled, or those with poor English
- Not always easy to find the specific clinic, hospital or treatment being looked for, as well as confusion over the available choices and difficulty for a lay person to find the appropriate clinic within a speciality
- Confusion over how to arrange urgent referrals
- The 0845 number is off-putting due to its expense and the worry of not calling a hospital local to the patient
- Appointments being cancelled by hospital or patient without a clear enough reason and no subsequent follow-up with the GP meaning patient will not receive treatment
It appears that the main hurdle the Choose and Book system has had to overcome is with the NHS staff themselves who have been reluctant to adapt to the new process and are finding it hard to keep on top of the new developments as well as improving patient information and communications.
The Choose and Book system is an excellent way to empower patients and improve patient choice – provided that the patients understand their choice in the first place. To understand more about how to make the most of a patient’s ability to find information and make the choices that are right for them click here.
totalhealth was launched in 2009 to meet the need of patients accessing high quality and trustworthy medical information. All the articles are written by leading teaching hospital specialists providing a range of treatment options for patients to empower them to make their own decisions on what is the right healthcare option for them.