Paterson Inquiry: How Private Hospitals and Clinics Can Adapt Their Websites

The Government’s response to the independent inquiry into rogue surgeon Ian Paterson has some big ramifications for independent hospitals and clinics. The Government has accepted nine of the proposals.

Here we outline how private healthcare hospitals, clinics and consultants can adapt their websites in line with these recommendations.

Although the general public may not be aware of these recommendations, showing that your facility is actively addressing many of these points demonstrates transparency, openness and a willingness to be held up to scrutiny.

Recommendation 1

“We recommend that there should be a single repository of the whole practice of consultants across England, setting out their practising privileges and other critical consultant performance data – for example, how many times a consultant has performed a particular procedure and how recently.

“This should be accessible and understandable to the public. It should be mandated for use by managers and healthcare professionals in both the NHS and the independent sector.”

In 2018, the Acute Data Alignment Programme (ADAPt) began developing a common set of standards for data collection, performance measure methodologies and reporting systems across the NHS and the independent sector.

As soon as this data is available in 2022 / 2023 patients should be signposted to it from your website and, where applicable, from individual consultant profiles on your site to their corresponding data on ADAPt.

When implementing this, be sure to specify that the data should open in a new window so that users do not navigate away from your site and “get lost” or find a competitors site instead.

Recommendation 2

“We recommend that it should be standard practice that consultants in both the NHS and the independent sector should write to patients, outlining their condition and treatment, in simple language, and copy this letter to the patient’s GP, rather than writing to the GP and sending a copy to the patient.”

Guidance across the healthcare system now states that consultants should write directly to patients and in a way that they understand. Is this also the case on your website? Is the language understandable for the lay person? If not, it is unlikely that patients will trust future communications from your practise or individual consultants.

If this is taken up as a standard practice within your clinic or private hospital, be sure to include this information on your website. Perhaps in a section explaining to patients what they should expect.

This surprisingly simple step can make a big difference when patients are choosing between service providers. Service providers who fail to do this obviously come away looking less professional and caring.

Recommendation 3

“We recommend that the differences between how the care of patients in the independent sector is organised and the care of patients in the NHS is organised is explained clearly to patients who choose to be treated privately, or whose treatment is provided in the independent sector but funded by the NHS. 

This should include clarification of how consultants are engaged at the private hospital, including the use of practising privileges and indemnity, and the arrangements for emergency provision and intensive care.”

With this information currently in production and due to be finalised in 2022, it would be worthwhile considering adding this information to your website.

Patients are well aware of the option of waiting and having treatment on the NHS. But by addressing the differences, benefits and provision of emergency care on your own private practice website you take ownership of the conversation.

Signposting site visitors to this independent information is another example of demonstrating openness and trustworthiness. Again, it would benefit private practices to ensure such links open in a new window to ensure visitors do not get lost or stumble on competitors websites.

Recommendation 4

“We recommend that there should be a short period introduced into the process of patients giving consent for surgical procedures to allow them time to reflect on their diagnosis and treatment options.

We recommend that the GMC monitors this as part of Good medical practice.”

Again, this aspect is something that can easily be added in a “What to expect” section of your website. Simply and clearly stating that patients will have the option to carefully consider their options before making a decision on treatment, is another simple addition mandated by the General Medical Council (GMC).

Simply including this information on your site demonstrates caring, compassion and a strict adherence to the guidelines.

Recommendation 6a and 6b

“We recommend that information about the means to escalate a complaint to an independent body is communicated more effectively in both the NHS and the independent sector (…) We recommend that all private patients should have the right to mandatory independent resolution of their complaint.”

Whilst private healthcare providers may not wish to draw attention to the possibility of having complaints, having a clear complaint policy on your website demonstrates transparency and a commitment to upholding Government guidelines.

Showing a link within the “footer” section of your website is one of the best ways to achieve this. This can then link to a page about your complaint policy where details of independent resolution and governing bodies can be found.

Other Recommendations

The other conclusions and recommendations of the Paterson Enquiry are really beyond the scope of digital marketing and are much more specific to how the private healthcare industry and the NHS deal with specific aspects of care.

Clinic managers and those who run a private practice are encouraged to read the report and supporting literature.

Conclusion

So, what are the key takeaways of the Paterson Inquiry that you can implement on your site straight away?

  • Provide links to the relevant Government endorsed sites
  • Ensure these links open in a new window
  • Use plain language on your website
  • Use a ‘What to expect’ section on your website on individual services and procedures, this can cover a number of recommendations from the inquiry.
  • Explain the differences between private and NHS treatment
  • Advise patients that they will be given time to review their options after an initial appointment
  • Provide links to your complaints procedure and independent resolution bodies.

With all these steps in place, not only will visitors to your website have the reassurance and confidence that your clinic is open and trustworthy, but you’ll also be meeting many of the Government approved recommendations of the inquiry.