Health Service Focus

11.10.17

Why don’t you write to your patients

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 17

The president of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), Professor Derek Alderson, talks about writing letters to patients with absolutely no ‘Surgspeak’ and the possibilities for advances in voice recognition technology to support this. NHE’s David Stevenson reports.

Advances in speech recognition technology are constantly being made, which could, eventually, lead to further benefits for the medical profession and the patients in their charge. Just before NHE went to press, for instance, Microsoft’s speech and dialogue research group revealed that its system had reached parity in conversational speech recognition. 

“Reaching human parity with an accuracy on par with humans has been a research goal for the last 25 years,” said Xuedong Huang, Technical Fellow at Microsoft. “Many research groups in industry and academia are doing great work in speech recognition, and our own work has greatly benefitted from the community’s overall progress. 

“While achieving a 5.1%-word error rate on the Switchboard speech recognition task is a significant achievement, the speech research community still has many challenges to address, such as achieving human levels of recognition in noisy environments with distant microphones, in recognising accented speech, or speaking styles and languages for which only limited training data is available.”

Moving from recognising to understanding speech is the next major frontier for speech technology, added Huang. 

In a recent article for the RCS’s magazine ‘The Bulletin’, Professor Derek Alderson, who was elected the organisation’s president earlier in the year, reflected on his career and whether surgeons do or don’t write letters to their patients summarising the outpatient consultation – especially after a recent meeting where he listened to a renal physician, who for more than a decade has been writing letters to those in his care. 

“I had tried this in my early consultant career in the dark ages of the electronic typewriter. The patients liked it, my secretary did not mind typing twice the number of clinic letters, but I grew to hate the need to check and sign all of these letters,” explained Prof Alderson. “There was also the small matter of letters sent by trainees on my behalf that always strayed heavily into ‘Surgspeak’. I convinced myself that most patients did not really care anyway, so when I asked them about the letter (I mainly asked those patients whom I thought would not have read it), I got the answer I was looking for. I gave it up as a waste of my time.” 

But as life moves on, and with the advent of the digital revolution, he asked the question: why don’t we follow up an outpatient consultation with a letter to the patient, summarising that consultation in a language the reader can understand? Especially as the General Medical Council states that patients must be given the information they want or need to know in a way they can understand. 

Prof Alderson explained that he had asked around to a number of surgeons who are sending letters to patients, and found that “patients like this behaviour.” 

“It makes them feel that they are being treated as individuals. It clarifies what was actually said in a consultation. Patients seem not to be frightened or upset by content. If they don’t have the capacity to read it then a carer or family member will read it to them,” he explained. “Having to turn medical language into a more colloquial style could be educationally beneficial and might help surgeons to convey technical information in a better way during consultations.” 

There are inevitable objections to this, he accepted, and although another letter involves extra dictation, “improvements in voice recognition technology might overcome additional demands on technical services and using email might overcome the cost of postage”. 

Although some solutions will lead to confidentiality dilemmas, the RCS president asked: does a patient’s happiness to be informed in this way not override objections? 

“For those surgeons who do write to their patients, I would like you to share your experiences and the feedback that you have received from patients,” he said. “If it’s a quality improvement then maybe it’s worth the investment in time.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.rcseng.ac.uk 

Top Image: 

© NicoElNino

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

national health executive tv

more videos >

latest healthcare news

NHS Digital annual report shows increase in adult social care workforce

27/02/2020NHS Digital annual report shows increase in adult social care workforce

An additional 1,000 adult social services roles were filled in local authorities across England, according to the latest NHS Digital annual repor... more >
NICE recommends new treatment for follicular lymphoma

27/02/2020NICE recommends new treatment for follicular lymphoma

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have published final draft guidance approving a new treatment option for patien... more >
First UK clinical trial to identify, assess and treat hepatitis C patients found to be effective

27/02/2020First UK clinical trial to identify, assess and treat hepatitis C patients found to be effective

A University of Bristol-led clinical trial to increase the identification and treatment of hepatitis C (HCV) patients in primary care has found t... more >

editor's comment

25/09/2017A hotbed of innovation

This edition of NHE comes hot on the heels of this year’s NHS Expo which, once again, proved to be a huge success at Manchester Central. A number of announcements were made during the event, with the health secretary naming the second wave of NHS digital pioneers, or ‘fast followers’, which follow the initial global digital e... read more >

last word

Haseeb Ahmad: ‘We all have a role to play in getting innovations quicker’

Haseeb Ahmad: ‘We all have a role to play in getting innovations quicker’

Haseeb Ahmad, president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), sits down with National Health Executive as part of our Last Word Q&A series. Would you talk us th... more > more last word articles >

the scalpel's daily blog

Too much emphasis on leadership development… and not enough

24/02/2020Too much emphasis on leadership development… and not enough

Words by Dean Royles and Kevan Taylor, who continue their regular contribution to NHE’s blog content. Kevan and Dean work in organisations and systems providing strategic support, advice and development. Every time the NHS goes through one of its many, many structural reorganisations, there is a renewed emphasis on the importance of leadership development. This is a good thing. We know the importance and value of good leadership a... more >
read more blog posts from 'the scalpel' >

comment

NHS England dementia director prescribes rugby for mental health and dementia patients

23/09/2019NHS England dementia director prescribes rugby for mental health and dementia patients

Reason to celebrate as NHS says watching rugby can be good for your mental health and wellbeing. As the best rugby players in the world repr... more >
Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Being on the receiving end of some “thanks” can make communit... more >
Nurses named as least-appreciated public sector workers

13/06/2019Nurses named as least-appreciated public sector workers

Nurses have been named as the most under-appreciated public sector professionals as new research reveals how shockingly under-vauled our NHS, edu... more >
Creating the Cardigan integrated care centre

10/06/2019Creating the Cardigan integrated care centre

Peter Skitt, county director and commissioner for Ceredigion Hywel Dda University Health Board, looks ahead to the new integrated care centre bei... more >
Helpforce to launch training programmes for NHS volunteers

10/06/2019Helpforce to launch training programmes for NHS volunteers

Kay Fawcett OBE, clinical advisor and education lead at Helpforce, and Lynn Twinn, talent development consultant, outline the new national traini... more >

interviews

Mike Farrar, Swim England - Last Word

07/12/2019Mike Farrar, Swim England - Last Word

Mike Farrar Chairperson of Swim England Would you talk us through your previous roles within the NHS? I’ve held a number of ... more >
Matt Hancock says GP recruitment is on the rise to support ‘bedrock of the NHS’

24/10/2019Matt Hancock says GP recruitment is on the rise to support ‘bedrock of the NHS’

Today, speaking at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) annual conference, Matt Hancock highlighted what he believes to be the three... more >
NHS dreams come true for Teesside domestic

17/09/2019NHS dreams come true for Teesside domestic

Over 20 years ago, a Teesside hospital cleaner put down her mop and took steps towards her midwifery dreams. Lisa Payne has been delivering ... more >
How can winter pressures be dealt with? Introduce a National Social Care Service, RCP president suggests

24/10/2018How can winter pressures be dealt with? Introduce a National Social Care Service, RCP president suggests

A dedicated national social care service could be a potential solution to surging demand burdening acute health providers over the winter months,... more >
RCP president on new Liverpool college building: ‘This will be a hub for clinicians in the north’

24/10/2018RCP president on new Liverpool college building: ‘This will be a hub for clinicians in the north’

The president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has told NHE that the college’s new headquarters based in Liverpool will become a hu... more >