Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Study: access to health services and information in the UK

Accessing Information about Health and Social Care Services
Picker Institute Europe
April 2007

Executive Summary
This is the second of two research studies on patients’ information produced for the Department of Health by the Picker Institute. The first, published in 2006*, found that few health information materials included a clear presentation of the likely outcomes of treatment, a discussion of clinical controversies and uncertainties, or an understanding of the patient’s decision-making role. Thus, they did not go very far to help patients make decisions.

This new study examines how patients, service users and carers currently find out about locally available services and how to access them.

Key Findings
1. Health professionals—who are often responsible for first diagnosis, or are an initial port of call for help with a condition—do not systematically or proactively provide their patients with information about accessing local services

2. There is a lack of co-ordination between information providers across boundaries—geographical, sectoral and organisational. It is rare for an individual or an organization to take responsibility for providing relevant information about the entire range of services available

3. There is a lack of effective signposting. There is no shortage of information—a significant amount of information is being designed and produced—but the service user is often left to dig it out for themselves, and may not know what it is they need to know

4. The types of information most commonly requested by service users include:
-details of voluntary sector support groups
-support for the family or carer(s)
-condition-specific services
-the financial benefits available, and how to claim them
-how to comment on or complain about services

5. With regard to the quality of information provision:
-users report that most telephone information points offer a friendly service, but do not always lead to helpful or appropriate information
- most health and social care websites contain useful information, but some are poorly designed
-some telephone advice services and websites fail to update regularly
-social care services appear to perform better than health agencies in offering information in various formats, thus making them accessible to people with disabilities

*Coulter A, Ellins J, Swain D, Clarke A, Heron P, Rasul F, Magee H, Sheldon H. Assessing the quality of information to support people in making decisions about their health and healthcare. Oxford: Picker Institute Europe, 2006

To download the full report (108 pages), visit:

For other Picker Institute Europe publications on health care and access to health issues, visit:

[Executive summary reprinted with permission.]