What GPs can learn by listening to patients | The Gaurdian

I was nervous at first and wasn’t sure what to expect. I write this having just come back from our first patient participation group (PPG) meeting. After this inaugural face-to-face, I came home feeling that the disparate group of our patients who made an effort to give up their time were generally pleased that they had attended.

I was really glad to meet them all outside the consulting room yet still on practice turf, managing to listen to their views. And in return I gave them some insight into the workings of their local surgery as well as a whistlestop tour.

Every patient who attended had two things in common – health needs and being registered at our practice. It’s only right that they get to voice their opinions, and that we as a practice can adapt to their needs and provide them with an even better service.

The government has encouraged practices to form such groups as part of a DES, or directed enhanced service. These are – in theory – optional initiatives which reward practices in return for work that improves the quality of patient care.

The themes which came up were no surprise. Access featured heavily. What is the best way to access the service that you need exactly when you need it? How long is it reasonable to wait for an appointment? What constitutes something medically urgent? Talking through some real life examples brought things to life in a way which I had never experienced before. And I applaud the group for volunteering their experiences.

It’s only by looking at these stories, analysing the pathway of exactly what happened and how it could be improved, that any headway can be made regarding changing practice systems and protocols.

Most doctors and patients would agree there is a lot of second guessing about how the other thinks. Often people get experiential snippets from friends who have tales as patients, or moans about the pressures of work from the odd doctor friend. But tonight it was all out in the open. We were all part of the same team, able to drill down on some issues which looked at the service as a whole, not just from one viewpoint. We were trying to work together to solve problems.

For instance, at one point there was mention of whether we offer ‘double appointments’ rather than rushing to squeeze everything into ten minutes. “Of course …”, I said, “but …” , the point being that if everyone asked for these all the time we’d really struggle in terms of capacity, so there needs to be some selection criteria around being allowed to book double appointments.

There was a real sense of unity by the end, and I think there was a realisation that patients need more input and ownership when it comes to their practices, and that providing a decent primary care service is actually quite a complex business.

We live in a world of diminishing budgets and increasing demand, which unavoidably leads to both implicit and explicit rationing. We touched on this thorny topic, as well as other broader issues around general practice itself – continuity of care, part-time clinicians and self-care which will become a big feature of future primary care as it is in some other European countries.

I am looking forward to our group evolving and generating ideas and solutions, and I hope by March next year we will have made some positive changes which will benefit both the practice team and our patients.

My hope is that people across the land get involved with their PPGs. And it doesn’t necessarily mean attending lots of meetings. Patients will be able to have their say via structured surveys which may be online or on paper.

Most importantly, all patients are to be represented by these groups and I was glad that our practice manager re-iterated this during the evening. Young, old, fit or infirm, we are all patients at some point in our lives, so we ought to seize this opportunity to discuss how best to make it as good an experience as possible. Originally posted on www.guardian.co.uk