I get grumpier as I get older. Fact.
Some things I have only recently become grumpy about. Like trolley bags; the fact that their owners always stop at the top of moving elevators trailing their bag in everyone’s way as if it has suddenly been rendered immobile by a tranquilliser gun.
Other things I have been grumpy about since an early age. Like ‘project management.’ I have a distant recollection of a rather misguided HR professional booking me onto a two-day Prince 2 (that’s a project management tool don’t you know) course some years ago. After a brief period in which I broke out into a cold sweat, I rather astutely manufactured a full diary.
I quite like project managers though who, for me, are on a par with Brian Cox or the other great minds of our time. Ok, hands-up, it’s that they save me the worry if I am honest.
This is a roundabout way of getting to the heart of the matter of course.
Finding the best way of getting good quality information into a patient’s hands will forever be a conundrum. My advice to anyone about to devise health information with a patient audience in mind is to get patients involved from the start in refining the message, deciding the best way to deliver it, and in its actual dissemination. And with so many ways to get information out there, rarely is one method or means of communication enough to reach who you want. Sorry if that’s news to you but it is true.
Guiding patients to the right information when it is out there is another matter. I subscribe to the school of thought that, by and large, patients tend to vote with their feet in getting to the best sources of information and that they will use a range of ways to point them in the right direction with health professionals and fellow patients being key. Sure, the crowd might initially get it wrong, but it will often pull itself round to the right place in time. I know, that does rather betray the liberal instinct in me doesn’t it?
The evidence that they might be persuaded by a quality mark or kite-mark – while theoretically plausible – is slim.
I say this because I notice that the Information Standard has recently been doing some PR about where people go for their health information. The subliminal message behind this PR is that by looking for the Information Standard ‘mark’ on, say, a charity website, patients can quickly find their way to the best information because it has been quality assured by them.
The Information Standard has its origins in a Department of Health consultation many moons ago, since when a not inconsiderable amount of money has been spent to set it up. Charities can now spend a bit of money also to get what they do tested by the Information Standard and, if successful, carry the Standard’s ‘mark,’ Sounds good doesn’t it. But I hope that one day there will be some evidence made available for how influential it is in determining where patients go for answers.
Above all it is important to recognise that the Information Standard quality assures the process by which the information is put together, rather than the information itself. The two are quite different as I am sure you will appreciate. And while I would agree that the better the process, the more likely what comes out is good, it is no guarantee.
On balance the Standard is not a bad thing at all, but forgive me if I see it as symptomatic of the rise of the championing of process over impact in modern life from which I feel more distanced and grumpy about every day.
Now, if you want a better idea for getting organisations to stand by their information and cough up the evidence behind it, then look no further than Sense about Science’s ‘Ask for Evidence’ campaign. The focus is on science and evidence as opposed to health information but, regardless, the model is much more preferable in my view.
Even better, there is not a Prince 2 folder in sight.
Thank goodness for ‘Sense about Science’ – at least someone has got some sense around here.