A letter from the doctor
In an important development for person-centred care, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is encouraging doctors to write outpatient letters directly to patients, copying in the GP. This reverses the traditional approach of writing to GPs and (sometimes) copying in the patient.
The move matters for two key reasons.
Firstly, it shifts the power balance. Patients become primary recipients of information about themselves. They are no longer positioned as bystanders in their own care, watching passively while professionals talk to one another above their heads.
Secondly, GPs benefit as well. The Academy states that “Doctors who have adopted the practice say their communication style has become more patient-centred. GPs find the letters easier to understand and spend less time interpreting the contents for the patient”
The new guidance does not come out of the blue. It reflects statements about patients’ rights in the NHS Constitution, and GMC guidance on good medical practice. And while it is based in policy, the Academy recognises that it cannot take implementation of the guidance for granted. It calls on “hospital trusts and clinical teams to support this initiative and provide help and training to all who need it”.
Addressing letters to patients first and GPs second may seem like a very small step. It is certainly one that should be achievable at little or no extra cost. But culturally, it marks a significant shift.
This is an important piece of guidance that should be required reading for Trust Boards.