Intended for healthcare professionals


National patient groups are a resource underutilised by GPs

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 12 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1658
  1. Peter Lapsley, Chief executive
  1. National Eczema Society and the Skin Care Campaign, London NW1 1BU

    EDITOR—Although Meryn is right to identify the need for improvements in the ability of doctors to communicate with patients, his proposal that communication skills should be included as a mandatory element of the medical school curriculum offers only a partial solution.1

    However accomplished a communicator a doctor may be, three factors conspire to inhibit effective communication with patients. The first is time: typically doctors are able to spend only seven minutes with an NHS patient. The second is fallible short term memory: it is widely accepted that few patients remember more than the first and last things doctors tell them. The third is generalism: general practitioners—the doctors most people see—are, by definition, generalists, and what they do not know they cannot communicate.

    National patient organisations are a resource that is underutilised by doctors. In addition to the research they fund and the role they play in educating the public, they are an excellent source of specialist information, advice, and support. They make available as much time as may be needed. They offer written information as well as support via helplines. And they have detailed knowledge of the conditions in which they specialise and of the treatment and management of those conditions. For the vast majority of these organisations, the quality and consistency of the information they provide is assured by a medical or scientific committee consisting of health professionals who are experts in their fields.

    There is substantial research evidence to show the clinical benefits of membership in patient organisations. Doctors who do not already do so could help their patients and ease their own burdens by directing patients and carers to appropriate patient support groups.