February 13, 2012
Too often we, as stakeholders in health, forget about whom we are talking when we say “patients.” We talk as if the patient is somewhere far away from our discussions rather than the person with whom, about whom and for whom we are having those discussions. In reality, we are all patients – for some it’s just once a year and for others it’s every day of the year. But it’s important to remember that health policy should, theoretically, benefit all of us when it is our turn to receive healthcare – no matter what that care is.
Safety, for us all, is at the heart of any treatment and is one of the main reasons people are nervous about doctors. Though human error will always be a risk in the delivery of healthcare, there are many steps that can be taken to prevent adverse events and errors, which affect not only the patient, but the professional, the hospital, the insurer and the healthcare industry. As former Rapporteur on the Cross-border Healthcare Directive in 2009 in the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, I defended – and continue to stress – Europe’s role in the issue of patient safety. It is a vital component of the quality of healthcare for all health stakeholders and I believe that safety and quality of care should be an absolute right for everyone receiving care. However, designing smart regulation to help Member States achieve better patient safety can only occur with the support and actions both of those who deliver care and those who receive it.
Part of the patient safety debate must also include the technologies developed to help ensure that safety. Innovation is at the heart of healthcare, but because we are often not discussing our personal accessibility to a medical innovation to help our personal quality of life, we forget about how important products and services are to the chain of healthcare delivery – such as professionals using technology for communication with us, our records and our prescriptions or hospitals using technology for our tests and our monitoring. How professionals and hospitals determine which technologies to utilise to protect and treat us is vital to our quality of life when we become a patient. And this is why the complicated process known as Health Technology Assessment (HTA), affects us all. HTA advises on the value of technologies for patients and health systems, but often does not include the views of the patients in question. When we remember that we are all patients, we also consider that our opinion about the care we receive should matter in HTA decisions and be included in a process that will ultimately determine our future access to that treatment. As patients we have the unique expertise that comes from living with a disease or disorder, with the drugs and devices and treatments for it and with the side effects of those treatments. It makes sense to draw on that expertise.
As we develop health policy in 2012 on issues of patient safety and HTA, we should not forget that we are all patients – in addition to our professional, scientific, business, representational or policymaking roles. Health First Europe understands that and it is a gospel we seek to spread.
HFE Honorary President