NHS Direct

Digital Pharma: NHS Direct pilots online treatment aids

pharmafile | June 11, 2010 | News story | Medical Communications NHS, NHS Direct, osteoporosis, patient information, prostate cancer 

NHS Direct is piloting online decision aids to help patients suffering from osteoporosis or prostate cancer make informed healthcare choices.

It is the first national web-based project of its kind in the UK and aims to increase patients’ awareness of the risks, benefits and likely outcomes they can expect from treatment and also help ensure NHS resources are used appropriately.

Mary Archer, chairman of the Urology Informed Decision Making Project and chairman of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: 
“The decision support programme is remarkable because it opens access to high quality peer approved information and support to help people faced with difficult treatment decisions.

“Making the programme available online extends access to the decision support service considerably and will enable us to keep it up-to-date with all the latest information.”

Beginning this month the three decision aids, for patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, enlarged prostate or localised prostate cancer, will be piloted for eight weeks.

Eligible patients at eight sites around the UK will be given access to the decision aids via their specialist clinician.

The decisions aids will outline the pros and cons of the treatment options available, and offer filmed interviews with people who live with the conditions. Patients will then be able to complete a short questionnaire to assess their treatment preferences, and this can then be used to support joint decision-making with their clinician.

If the pilot is a success there are plans to launch six further decision aids, either by transferring existing materials online or developing new resources.

The second phase of development will include resources for patients with prostatectomy, breast cancer surgery and foetal health procedure amniocentesis.

Dr Steven Laitner, associate medical director at East of England SHA, said: “Making a decision about the best treatment for you can be difficult. Patient Decision Aids have a proven track record of helping patients and their clinicians to make informed choices.

“I have been working very closely with NHS Direct and other partners to develop the Online Patient Decision Aids and I am keen to see how, using this multi-media platform, we can extend the benefits to more patients and clinicians.”

NHS Direct said its Online Patient Decision Aids (OPDA) were designed for patients facing difficult decisions about medical tests or treatments, when there is no clinical evidence that one treatment is better than another and they don’t know which will be best for them.

NHS Direct was launched in 1998 to provide a 24-hour telephone helpline advising patients on how to deal with symptoms and where to go in an emergency. It took 5 million calls last year and its website attracts around 1 million visits a month.

NHS Direct’s ‘web-first’ approach for patient decision aids

Two of the decision aids included in the pilot, those for patients with prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate, are already available in offline, hard copy formats, but in the future NHS Direct said it plans to take a ‘web-first’ approach.

This would see the decision aids made available in a variety of digital formats such as videos, interactive Q&As and webchats, with additional telephone support available via NHS Direct if required.

Although the pilot will be developed as a stand-alone web service with telephone support, NHS Direct said its long-term aim was to develop “a national multi-media NHS ‘wrap’ for OPDAs using NHS Direct’s existing online health and symptom checker infrastructure”.

Dominic Tyer is web editor for Pharmafocus and InPharm.com and the author of the Digital Pharma blog He can be contacted via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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