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Patient choice or analysis paralysis?

Patient choice is now viewed less as a buzzword and more as a KPI, but how are patients making choices?

A lot has changed in that regard in recent years. Traditionally, patients were referred to specialists via their GP or via an automated centralised system. As a patient, you had little choice or knowledge of who was the best person or clinic to attend, someone made that decision for you unless of course you had a specific recommendation. Within many public health care systems, this is still how it works.

But with the advent of the internet there has been a steady growth in the popularity of review and comparison sites in the health care sphere. From dialysis to elderly care provision you can check out the reviews and compare first. Even large health care groups have begun to embrace their own internal patient review processes to provide choice amongst their clinics and services.

We have seen a lot of advocacy around this level of patient choice, but this isn’t choosing which air fryer to buy, the stakes are much higher yet many are still left with the same level of analysis paralysis. More data is undoubtedly a good thing, but data without context can lead to bad decisions. Patients generally aren’t experts in health care, so they often don’t have enough context to understand what is actually being compared and what impact it may have on their health. Some sectors can’t even agree on the comparables. For example, in the fertility sector there is a lot of disagreement on how to quantify “success”! Could the same be said in oncology? Is a success complete removal or remission?

Of course, there are some basic must-haves when choosing a specialist. Mortality statistics are, of course, essential – but how do you compare a general surgeon and a cardiac specialist? Or years practicing (who is better a surgeon: someone that has been qualified for over 38 years or someone who is two years out of med school?). Bedside manner in a surgeon – what is better an arrogant know-it-all or a nice person who was a bit shy and modest and not very confident? Again, the context in all these comparisons makes a difference.

It is a great move to see more patient choices around the industry, but review and comparison sites can actually make the job of making a truly informed choice much harder. Perhaps the ability to change doctors or clinics should actually be all that is needed if the patient level of satisfaction is not met, pair that with value-based healthcare and we are definitely on to something. But basing a life-changing decision solely on the 4-star reviews of strangers is a scary prospect.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Kirsty Withams or call 0207 183 3779.