One word crops up time and again when it comes to the growing conversation around patient-initiated follow-up (PIFU) today. Since the onset of PIFU, the word ‘empower’ has commonly been used to describe the purpose and benefits of this evolving route for outpatient care - and it’s easy to see why.
The days of healthcare being overwhelmingly delivered one-to-one are behind us. Today, with the demands of an ageing population and greater knowledge of medical conditions, care delivery relies on the team around a patient, making communication fundamental. Healthcare also trends towards giving patients greater control and oversight over their care.
That’s often what we mean when we talk about ‘empowering’ patients. But before we get into what empowerment means in the context of PIFU, it’s worth thinking about why we talk about ‘empowering patients’ at all.
There’s two main reasons we focus on ‘empowering’ patients…
- It’s how we advocate the move away from paternalistic modes of care, so that patients can become more active in the care they receive.
- It’s how we highlight the importance of power and control - and a sense of these - to the patient experience.
Given the benefits of talking about patient ‘empowerment’, there’s a danger that we start to apply it too loosely and without due consideration to what real patient empowerment means.
‘Empowering’ patients with PIFU
As discussed in this recent blog post, and our accompanying report, today’s PIFU solutions are predominantly framed as patient-initiated booking systems. This means patient ‘empowerment’ quickly becomes shorthand for the ability to book an appointment directly with a service.
But there’s a few problems with this:
- It doesn’t really transfer power to patients if they have to repeatedly call a phone line to book their appointment, or if that appointment isn’t readily available because there aren’t empty slots available, or if they’d actually receive the care they need quicker and more effectively another way. Given the lack of technical infrastructure and capacity for training, it’s completely understandable that overwhelmed services have turned to the known method of phone lines to implement PIFU. But we know this can result in a poor patient experience, and can also be inefficient for staff, as well as cause delays in treatment time.
- Booking an appointment is effectively an administrative task, which makes it a transactional way of putting power into the hands of patients. This can often defer the resolution of a patient’s concerns, updates or requests to that appointment (whenever this may be). A far more immediate and meaningful approach to PIFU is to enable patients to instantly voice any changes in their condition, be heard, and access care quicker outside of appointments.
So does PIFU really ‘empower’ patients?
That depends. If PIFU’s future implementation makes it synonymous with appointment booking then the answer has to be no, for the reasons above.
But what if PIFU lets patients communicate directly, easily and in a timely manner with an experienced clinician - a clinician who provides them with the right means of personalised care? Then the answer has to be yes.
That’s why we think PIFU should be all about facilitating conversations between healthcare professionals and patients. Our team believes NHS providers should be given the means to open a digital channel of communication with patients on a PIFU pathway. That way, many more patients can quickly get the specialist support or advice they need, without needing to book an appointment at all.
Our PIFU solution enables healthcare professionals to prioritise appointments for patients who need them, while managing other PIFU enquiries quickly and seamlessly over SMS/web messaging. This reduces unnecessary appointments, saves time, and means patients are cared for quicker and more effectively.
What true patient empowerment means
In the context of PIFU, real patient empowerment means enabling patients to initiate a conversation directly with their care team. That way, they can quickly and easily make contact when they need to, and receive the clinical information they need to make informed, shared decisions about their care. This accessible point of interaction is what makes patients - particularly those more vulnerable - feel confident and in control of their care.
As progressive as it can sound to talk about patient ‘empowerment’, it’s worth being razor-sharp and clear-minded about how and when to talk about it. If we’re not, patient ‘empowerment’ risks becoming a buzzword found in health policy - one that over-promises, under-delivers and contains little beneath the surface.
If you'd like to find out more about Accurx and how you can support more patients with our digital PIFU solution, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch by emailing email@example.com