If you’ve ever tuned in to one of our podcasts or had a chance to view one of our videos, there’s a certain characteristic you might have noticed about me. I’m British. Very British indeed. During the course of my academic research career, I spent 6 years working alongside neurologists, psychiatrists, and a multidisciplinary team of nurses, speech and language therapists, physios, and occupational therapists at King’s College Hospital and the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital in South London. As you probably know, the United Kingdom (UK) has a very different health system to the United States (U.S.). The National Health Service (NHS), formed in 1948 as part of post-war reconstruction, has three core principles: 1) To meet the needs of everyone, 2) to be free at the point of delivery, and 3) to be based on clinical need rather than ability to pay. Against an aging population and rising medical costs, however, the NHS needs to continually innovate in order to remain cost effective, and the UK’s coalition government has set an ambitious target to maintain quality of care while cutting £20 billion from the NHS budget (approximately $32 billion).
Earlier this month, PatientsLikeMe was invited to participate in the NHS’ second Innovations Expo in East London, a 2-day expo featuring a vast exhibit hall of innovations from the private and public sectors, as well as a packed schedule of seminars and platform presentations from Andrew Lansley (Secretary of State for Health) and Sir David Nicholson (Chief Executive of the NHS). They spoke of plans for radical reform of the NHS, with more power being transferred from central government to General Practitioners (GPs, equivalent to U.S. Primary Care Physicians, PCPs) and much more of an emphasis on something that ties in with our core value: “Patients First.”
We were fortunate to have a “Masterclass Theatre,” where, on behalf of PatientsLikeMe, I was able to share some of our experiences in the U.S. and provide examples of successes we’ve had that might translate well to the NHS. We also gave a couple of more intimate seminars which candidly discussed 5 lessons we had learned from 100,000 patients over the past five years.
In addition to PatientsLikeMe, there were a number of interesting innovations at the event, including a company that does what we do but for doctors (Doctors.net.uk), a patient health record that links into the NHS’ medical notes system and allows clinicians to help manage patients with rare conditions (PatientsKnowBest, founded by a doctor and chronic condition patient), and an information portal that helps provides clinicians with the best evidence to help support their decision making (NHS Evidence). We also attended the launch of an inspiring white paper from thinktank The Young Foundation entitled “Connect: Patients and the Power of Data.” Sensible, compelling, and highly readable, the report starts off with a quote from the coalition government’s white paper on health that we might just make into a plaque: “Information is a health and care service in its own right: it must be freely available to all those who need it.” You can read the report for free here.
For PatientsLikeMe, the UK and the NHS in particular offers a number of interesting possibilities. Because there is less variability in access to care in the UK than the U.S., it might make a better environment in which to evaluate how much benefit our system can have for patients with serious health conditions. The UK also has a strong medical science community and some of the brightest minds with whom to collaborate on research studies (see, for instance, our work with Oxford University). Finally, the UK is an interesting place for us to operate because the system is more aligned to prioritize patient care over profitability; that’s not to say it’s flawless or that cost is not a factor in rationing access to some services. But if the current round of proposed reforms are implemented, it seems that physicians and care providers are going to be evaluated and rewarded on the basis of the outcomes they produce for patients, not just the number of procedures they perform. That sounds just like the world we’d like everyone to live in.