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Treat me as a person not just a number, say patients

June 12, 2003

Not being able to see a doctor who knows you or with whom you have developed a relationship could have an impact on your personal care, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers interviewed patients, doctors, nurses, and administrative staff at six general practices in Leicestershire to explore their experiences of personal care.

Patients described personal care as involving empathy, and the perception that health professionals listened and "had time" for them. One patient said: "Dr O helped me a lot you see. I find it easier to talk to him cause he listens really, really well."

Individualised or tailored care was also an important theme. GPs and nurses talked about tailoring their management of conditions, while receptionists talked about tailoring their social talk, as specific ways of providing personal care.

Patients often referred to the importance of professionals knowing about them and/or their family history, and a continuing relationship was central to many accounts of personal care. One patient said: "I think a one to one relationship obviously makes the care personal ... and really that's established over the years."

Practices and individual health professionals can provide personal care even when patients do not consult a familiar health professional, say the authors. If GPs and other practice members wish to provide personal care, it is important for them to have good communication skills, and the time to use these skills effectively.

Changes in policy and practice in primary care could threaten personal care for some patients if it becomes more difficult for them to see a health professional who knows them or with whom they have an ongoing relationship, add the authors.

They recommend that practices should have systems that enable patients to consult a health professional with whom they have an ongoing relationship whenever they prefer to do so.


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