Information overload

In an age where more and more people are seeking health and social care information, particularly on the Internet, it has never been more important for patients to have access to good quality information that is not only reliable but from a trustworthy source.
    
Research carried out by the Department of Health shows that out of 1,000 people questioned, 77 per cent said they had sought health and social care information in the last 12 months and 87 per cent said they would also be in favour of a scheme that would make them trust the information more1.
    
In the UK, there are some 50,000 producers of health and social care information presenting patients with a mind-boggling array of material to choose from – not an easy task.

New measures
Things are, however, about to get simpler with new measures being introduced by the Department of Health to support patient empowerment, information and choice.
    
Two main initiatives – Information Prescriptions and The Information Standard, previously known as the information accreditation scheme – will help people find their way to the best sources of information to meet their needs.
    
Information Prescriptions have been piloted by 20 different health and social care sites across England and are already being implemented across some local authorities, primary care trusts (PCTs) and NHS trusts. Free of charge, they contain information on long-term conditions and treatment, but also other services people may need such as local or national support groups, housing, financial, employment and leisure. This means each Information Prescription is unique to the individual and tailored to their specific needs – be they health or social care knowledge or advice on support groups.
    
As well as being available to self-prescribe at home via the NHS Choices website, people will be able to get Information Prescriptions from frontline health and social care professionals such as doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, social workers and other care providers.
    
Information Prescriptions will work hand-in-hand with The Information Standard. Similar to schemes such as Fair Trade, The Information Standard will assess the organisation’s processes rather than individual pieces of information. Amongst other things, it will indicate that information the organisation produces is consistent, contains the latest clinical evidence, includes alternative opinions, and that it is regularly updated.
    
Certified health and social care organisations will be able to place the quality mark, on all their information materials, whether print or digital, so that people can be reassured they are from a reliable source.
 
The role of IT
Information technology will be crucial in ensuring successful delivery of better information. At the moment, patients and health and social care professionals can access Information Prescriptions on NHS Choices for a number of long-term conditions (www.nhschoices.net/informationprescriptions).   
    
The aim is to make Information Prescriptions available from a wide range of health and social care organisations, such as Primary Care Trusts (GP surgeries and community services), NHS hospital trusts, social care teams in local authorities, support groups and charities.
    
An Information Prescription can provide a lot of information about someone’s current state of health. Therefore, they need to be delivered and stored in ways that protect people’s privacy. That is where Connecting for Health can help.
    
Currently, anyone aged 16 or over living in England with a valid e-mail address can register for an NHS web service called HealthSpace. It is a free, online personal health organiser that can help patients manage their health, store important health information, such as their Information Prescription, or find out about NHS services near them.
    
HealthSpace will in the future have a new element called HealthSpace Communicator, which is currently being piloted. HealthSpace Communicator will enable patients to contact healthcare staff using secure messaging where staff offer it. Among other things, it will enable Information Prescriptions to be sent and stored in a protected place.
    
HealthSpace will work hand in hand with Information Prescriptions to ensure that patients are well and truly in the information-sharing loop by making it easier for them to exchange knowledge with those providing care. Ultimately, HealthSpace will also provide people with greater access to a summary version of their own electronic health records. It is all about putting the individual in control.

Implementation at local level
The need for better information spans social care as well as health. Manchester City Council piloted and has now implemented Information Prescriptions through its website www.manchester.gov.uk/MyManchesterServices.
    
Adults living with a long-term condition can now access accredited information about their condition. The website also links them to information on local support groups, welfare rights and benefits and support for carers of people with their condition. All of this information can be downloaded in PDF format and printed as a personalised Information Prescription. People can download as much or as little information as they want.
    
According to Manchester’s lead member for Adult Services, Cllr Basil Curley, the majority of people in the pilot felt that the information provided would help them manage their long-term health condition better.
    
Camden Primary Care Trust is also looking at implementing Information Prescriptions. They are currently piloting them with a number of GP surgeries, with a view to rolling them out across the borough by the end of the year.
    
Annette Buckley, who is leading this work for the PCT, believes there is a need for a coherent information strategy involving a broad range of stakeholders across the health, social care, local authority and voluntary sectors. The introduction of Information Prescriptions has been a spring board for this, providing an opportunity to review and consolidate the information resources available to service users. In particular, she emphasises the need to review how information reaches some of the most needy and vulnerable service users and the PCT is working closely with the London Borough of Camden on more effective ways of doing this.
    
Work to develop The Information Standard is also progressing well. The Department of Health has recently announced that Capita is to manage the scheme. There are 39 organisations currently piloting the Information Standard and it will be launching this summer. This means that organisations like Manchester City Council will soon be able to start applying to become members.
    
For many organisations it will be a real opportunity to improve the quality of all their information, and should eventually lead to improvement of the quality of information across the health, social care and third sectors.

Costs
Of course there are cost implications. Any organisation applying for certification will have to pay a fee. The cost will vary depending on the size and complexity of the organisation and the day rate charged by accreditation bodies. To prevent cost being a barrier for some information producers, particularly smaller organisations, the DH will make subsidies available in the first three years. The exact way in which subsidies will be distributed will be determined prior to launch of the scheme.
    
For most organisations, it will be a good opportunity to review the way they produce information and it will provide instant reassurance to the public that the information they produce is of a high standard.  
    
For health and social care professionals, both Information Prescriptions and The Information Standard will increase partnership working across the statutory and voluntary sectors, increase professionals’ understanding of the variety of services available, and enable them to offer a more holistic service. It will also help to reduce the sense of ‘information overload’.
    
Patients, service users and carers, of course, will be the biggest beneficiaries. They will be able to choose how much information they want, in what format and when, putting them in the driving seat and helping them and their families make informed choices about their health and care.

Quote from patient
“I have been living with diabetes, arthritis, blood pressure, enduring mental health problems and being very overweight as well as being a carer for my mum with Alzheimer’s.
   
“When I was prescribed an Information Prescription, I couldn’t believe the depth of information it contained – it helped me get details on additional support for mum with meals and household chores, find out about how to make sure the benefits and allowances that mum was receiving were correct and resulted in my being given carer allowance. I was also able to find a support group for me and a day centre where mum can go regularly to give me a break, which means I have time to look after me, too.
   
“It has now been over 12 months since I have had a relapse in my condition, and I am sure it is because I am better able to manage my condition thanks to the Information Prescription. I am able to keep informed of all the other bits of my life that could have a negative impact on my health and mum’s health too. 
   
“It’s about time things were done more in partnership and joined up and not leave patients to fend for themselves in the wilderness of information and services, each not knowing what the other does or how to get referred.
   
“The Information Prescription is also really handy to flick through, a bit like a directory of relevant services for us as patients, without all the unnecessary stuff – it certainly cuts out unnecessary waffle.”

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