Should patients take more of a lead in their own self care?

Every now and again I like to write something deliberately provocative. I think it gets us thinking.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 6:00 am
Learning to look after yourself.

I was chatting this weekend with a GP colleague. He said to me that he was disappointed that more people haven’t learnt to look after themselves better during the pandemic. I think there was some hope in medical circles, that given the enforced restricted access to healthcare people would be forced to take more of a lead in their own self-care.

The conversation was prompted by the recent press around the huge demand for GP services, and the crisis in access to appointments. Local GP, Dr Ben Allen, even wrote an apology acknowledging the frustrations, but also highlighting how soul destroying it is for primary care staff not to have enough time to do their job properly.

I appreciate that the restrictions of this pandemic have placed awful burdens on many. There has been limited access to facilities to exercise and be social, and huge life changing upheavals. The stresses have triggered many new health challenges.

However, a crisis can be the stimulus that’s needed for a new way of being. There has been so much innovation. Maybe my colleagues hope wasn’t too far-fetched? But with people flooding back to GP surgeries, he joked: “It feels a little as though people have been holding their breath underwater, rather than learning new ways to breathe.”

I remember learning to scuba dive. You need the right equipment and lessons to feel confident. Unless we give people the right ‘tools’ and confidence to use them, of course people won’t do it.

I am always amazed by how many people on blood pressure treatment don’t understand what the two numbers represent in their reading. Unless we take time to explain what those figures mean and how to check them, it remains that way. Advances in medicine may seem to be making health care more complex, but it also offers new user-friendly solutions for self-monitoring and treatment. The GP access crisis feels far from over, so maybe we could still do things differently and build a new kind of healthcare that works better for us all.