New Online Information Service Puts Patients In Charge

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New website, NHS Choices www.nhs.uk, aims to personalise healthcare and provide information that will allow patients to make meaningful choices about when and where to receive their treatment.

NHS Choices is an information service fit for the 21st century - a resource that gives patients authoritative medical information and enables patients and carers to make better, more informed choices about their health and wellbeing.

The site will provide important benefits for patients, providers and healthcare commissioners. For example, those patients for whom waiting time is a critical factor will be able to identify the most appropriate hospital, while others who may wish to base their decision on travelling times, or incidence of MRSA, will also have their preferences met.

Key features of the new site include:

* NHS library: Authoritative information on common conditions and procedures previously only available to clinicians.

* Compare Hospitals: for the most common procedures that enable patients to benchmark services and make informed decisions about where they go for treatment.

* Provider profiles: a space for hospitals to provide authoritative information on their services to their local communities.

* Your Thoughts: an opportunity for the public to comment on and rate the quality of the treatment they receive and to allow providers to reply and identify areas in need of improvement.

* Up to date healthcare information in a range of online magazines targeted at specific groups such as teenagers and parents.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said: "Health advice is the second most popular subject on the web. Consequently there is a bewildering array of information online often of varying quality that can be confusing or in the worst cases dangerous. With the launch of NHS Choices that will change - patients and providers will now have access to the best, most reliable information on health.

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"NHS Choices puts patients in the driving seat - giving them access to information not previously available to them so they can make informed decisions from advice about healthy eating to identifying the right hospital for their treatment.

"The site will also enable health providers to form different partnerships with patients. Providers will be able to communicate directly with the public online and allowing patients to compare hospitals will encourage clinicians and managers to improve their performance.

"Over the next few months, we will continue to develop the site and provide the information that people want and need so that we have a truly patient-led NHS."

NHS Choices will also enable hospitals to provide more information to their local communities than is currently the case on nhs.uk. They will be able to highlight specific services, facilities, hospital accommodation and initiatives such as their range of emergency services, and provision of faith-based counselling services. In addition, specific data on outcomes and other statistical information will demonstrate the particular strengths of individual hospitals.

Health providers and commissioners will benefit from the enhanced awareness of comparative information. Richer data on waiting times, length of stay and number of patients treated will be readily available from all hospitals in a specific area. Comparative information on readmission rates in different hospitals will also be freely available. This will drive up efficiency and increase cost competitiveness.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, a cardiac surgeon from University College London and Chair of the NHS Choices Clinical Advisory Group, said:

"By providing patients with better information you create a spiral that started with informed healthcare decisions and leads ultimately to the provision of a better service. I welcome the publication of clinical performance measures as it is instrumental to this process.

"This kind of information makes for a better consultation. As a surgeon, there is nothing more fulfilling than a two-way consultation with an informed patient who seeks additional detail to reach a better understanding and decision on their treatment, whether that leads to surgery or not."

Harry Cayton, National Director of Patients and the Public said: "The provision of easy-to-use comparative hospital data is welcomed and in time will switch the balance of power away from hospitals and towards the people who use them."

Tom Coffey, a South London GP, said: "Patients are increasingly arriving at my surgery with information about conditions that they have found through a search of the internet. This information is often out of date and invalid. By giving patients access to validated, evidence-based information that was previously only available to clinicians, GPs can have a more informed discussion with their patients."

The public will be able to access NHS Choices at hundreds of pharmacies across the country.

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