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Championing Patient Autonomy with DrDoctor

Distilled Post sits with DrDoctor’s Netta Nyrhinen to discuss the importance of putting patient communication first

FEBRUARY 01  2021


Currently, the way healthcare handles patient communications is far from optimal. 

The COVID-19 has certainly magnified the communication challenges between practitioners and patients. In the best of circumstances, promoting effective patient communications can be a challenge for many clinical practices and trusts. The past year has demonstrably shown that we are at an impasse in ensuring that patients suffering from critical illnesses receive effective and immediate care. As a result, we are now in the depths of a rising ‘infodemic’, caused by the lack of transparency and autonomy afforded through effective patient communication.

Without concrete communication pathways, patients can expect to wait anywhere between 2 – 8 hours before seeing a specialist. Due to the lack of sustainable communications between hospitals and patients, capacity for bed space and available health staff has been severely disrupted. In order to cope, public health systems have built digital facilities to carry the burden of the pandemic fallout. Virtual hospitals and wards now help traditional health institutions to spread patient flow evenly. In the short term, the emergence of Nightingale wards and COVID-19 hubs may stem the worst effects of an increasing supply and demand issue.

However, these measures may not mitigate the long-term effects of the pandemic.
Researchers from the University of Oxford foresee a bleak road to recovery, should health systems refuse to deploy certain patient communication facilities. Their study suggests that ‘supply side reductions’ in healthcare, due to lacking patient communication pathways, will result in a ‘devastating’ ‘demand shock’ across international health systems:

‘For industries and occupations in the health sector, which have experienced the highest increase in demand, is without a corresponding increase in supply […] In other words, the increase in activity in the health sector is unlikely to be large enough to compensate significantly for the devastatingly increased demand shock for care and treatment’

As healthcare systems become increasingly incapacitated in terms of service and treatment, it is unlikely that traditional forms of clinical communication will meet patient needs. Long wait times, delayed appointments and surgeries, which are all exacerbated by lacking communication, will only dampen pandemic recovery initiatives. If public health stalls on cultivating more dynamic and digitised patient communication models, it is likely that it will buckle under future demands.


Better Patient Communication could Improve Health Backlog

Currently, public health systems rarely reimburse platforms that incentivise optimised patient communication. Specifically, they have been slow to implement digital tools that drive both patients and clinicians towards autonomy and shared decision making. In the past, financial, logistic and emotional blockers impeded the use of these digitised patient communication streams. Many clinicians previously dismissed the use value of telemedicine platforms, stating that they provided little in the way of convenience or ease of access.

Recent times have shown that this way of thinking will debilitate future care initiatives. To pave a smoother path towards post-pandemic recovery, public health needs to sustain positive care models and technological offerings. Namely, it needs to support digital systems that promote clearer communication, transparency and autonomy in patient care. According to a study published in Frontiers in Public Health, digitised platforms that encourage direct-to-patient communication will ease pressures on public health systems. Communication platforms that focus on ‘well-being’, ‘sustainable behaviour change’ and, above all, create a ‘autonomy supportive healthcare climate’, will allow clinical practices and patients to prevail:

‘Health communication is an essential tool for achieving public health objectives, including patient support and eliminating health discrepancies. […] Thus, there is a need for enhanced communication tools and strategies to cut through the pandemic noise that are accessible and reliable’

DrDoctor: A Leader in Digitised Patient Communication and Empowerment 

Due to the digital acceleration inspired by the COVID-19 crisis, health providers now see the value of virtual offerings. As technologies mature, including remote communication tools, they have become essential to providing critical healthcare services to patients. Currently, the healthcare ecosystem has responded well to ‘best-of-breed’ communication tools, which have palpably improved healthcare delivery.

In the UK, the DrDoctor platform is a particular success story for better communication and patient service. DrDoctor’s Patient Platform, which ‘provides patients with all the information and access they need digitally’, enables care providers to directly and immediately connect patients with the facilities they need. According to Netta Nyrhinen, DrDoctor’s Head of Communications, the platform’s 14-strong product suite ‘activates patients in their own care’. By doing so, the platform eases the care burden from hospitals as it empowers patients and makes them accountable for their health journeys:

‘The ethos and the whole reason we exist is to empower patients in their own care. DrDoctor’s patient engagement platform activates patients in their own care. It gives them agency, and it gives them power to be in charge of their own healthcare journey. As a result, we have seen real benefits for hospitals, as patients are incentivised to turn up to their appointments and partner with healthcare staff in working towards their recover’

At its core, the DrDoctor platform uses the best of technology to deliver quality and patient centric approaches to healthcare. In terms of forging increased patient autonomy, Netta credits the DrDoctor platform’s technology with creating clearer lines of communication between patients and healthcare providers:

‘Our first point of contact with the patient is when we send them a simple text message, after they have consulted with their GP. By sending them that initial text message through the platform, we put our patients at ease from the very beginning. When it comes time for them to have an appointment through their GP referral, we give them a choice as to when, where and how they would like to receive care’ 

The DrDoctor platform activates patient empowerment through the simplicity offered by digital automation. The platform proves that giving patients more care choices, through something ‘as simple as a platform-generated text’ message, can promote productivity and collaboration: 

‘We automate this process through something as simple as a platform-generated text, so that patients can choose when they want to be seen how they want to be seen, and curate the touch points that they would have with their healthcare provider’


How DrDoctor’s Patient Engagement Platform Eases Health Backlog

Further, automating and simplifying patient communication has had a positive effect on reducing the NHS backlog. Netta and the DrDoctor team have worked tirelessly to relieve the NHS backlog, by automating the patient journey through digitising communication:

‘We looked at the work we were conducting on behalf of our NHS partners. According to the media, NHS Trusts face a backlog of about 4.7 Million. However, we believe this to be much higher. We decided to help the NHS by firstly, offering our service without a license fee during the pandemic; and secondly, by giving patients more autonomy over their appointments and treatments. Through the platform, the patients can now digitally opt out of appointments that are no longer necessary, without inundating NHS services in person’ 

The platform’s digitised patient engagement tool allows for patients to ‘plan ahead’, minimise disruption and ‘activate’ a sense of urgency in their own care journeys. As Netta elaborates, the DrDoctor platform allows patients to be more than just a ‘passenger in their health treatments’:

‘When patients have certain disruption in their lives, particularly in the case of chronic illness patients, the platform allows them to plan ahead. Often, this patient group feels like a lot of control is taken away from their lives. What we try to do through the platform is to give some control back to the patient. Through our patient portal, we give them the option to reschedule appointments or cancel them if treatment is no longer needed – with just a click of a button’


Looking Forward 

Public health systems now realise the true value of platforms like DrDoctor, which ‘fundamentally shift how [patients] interact with the NHS’. By encouraging digital communication pathways, clinicians and patients can work together to curate ‘the best possible care at the lowest prices’.

Going forward, it is clear that the practice of patient-centric communication will account for much needed high-quality healthcare in the future. In preparation for recovery, health systems will need to be more responsive to individual preferences in patient communication. As Netta and the DrDoctor team have shown, promoting autonomy through digitised communications platforms will enable patient self-management; the by-product of which will be a more streamlined health operations, stronger collaboration and better care delivery for all.

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