I have just come back to work after taking a break for a few months, and it has been tough. I have forgotten the pace that a GP has to work at, and the volume of quick decisions you have to make. What diagnosis? What recommendation? Which drug? Ten minutes for each patient, each appointment a new set of challenges.
A few weeks ago Dr Helen Story wrote in this column about the concerns she had for general practice and the spiralling demands on our services, without the increase in workforce to match it.
It got me reflecting on how we will be able to sustain this, as GPs, but also as patients wanting the best out of the NHS and its doctors and nurses.
One of the solutions the chief executive of the NHS has highlighted, and that is starting to catch the imagination in Sheffield, is to support ‘person-centred care’.
What does this mean? Surely we are all already the centre of our care aren’t we? But often we are not. Often we understand little about what is happening to us, and the role that we can play in maintaining our best health.
In a lot of ways the health professions have been to blame. It has suited us to maintain a shroud of mystery over what we do.
In the not too distant past all the diagnoses were in complex Latin origin speak, a kind of secret code. If I whispered that you’d had a myocardial infarction, how many of you would know that you’d had a heart attack?
Person-centred care sets out to change all that, and encourages health care professionals to make great efforts to translate, simplify, and help people understand what is going on.
But it goes further than that - it aims to teach people the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to get involved in supporting their own wellness. We call this part of your care self-management.
In medicine, if we think something is important we tend to measure it: blood pressure, blood sugar levels, your blood counts.
So we have started to measure people’s skills, knowledge and confidence to self-manage. It is called the Patient Activation Measure. Sheffield is piloting its use, and the NHS looks on with much interest. Many of you may already have answered the 13 questions that make up the measure.
Of course we are not trying to suggest that we leave people without support to manage their health, but if we understand if they are a beginner or an expert, we can tailor our support accordingly.
I think if people engage in learning to be great self-managers alongside what I can offer them in 10 minutes, we just might all survive a little longer.