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Tom Gausden

Senior Business Manager and Lead for Life Sciences and Sustainability, Patients Know Best

Richard Smith

Chairman of Patients Know Best, member of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit’s Advisory Group, and former Editor of the BMJ

Great use of digital tools and virtual consultations within the NHS will lead to better patient outcomes and make significant inroads into reducing the carbon footprint of health and care services in the UK.

Empowering patients to take control of their health via digital tools can have environmental benefits and lead to a more sustainable healthcare system.

Experts say that by giving patients access to their electronic health records and enabling them to play a bigger part in the management of their care will also result in better outcomes as well as support NHS England’s target of being net zero for carbon emissions by 2040.

Net zero

Former BMJ editor Dr Richard Smith says the UK’s health and social care system is not financially, socially and environmentally sustainable and currently produces about 5% of Britain’s carbon emissions.

Dr Smith, who is Chairman of the Patients Know Best (PKB) social enterprise organisation, suggests that achieving net zero emissions will require huge change in the way the health system works, with virtual consultations as an element of that.

He adds that a growing number of patients who have long-term chronic conditions will benefit from using digital means to play an increased role in their care.

A growing number of patients who have long-term chronic conditions will benefit from using digital means to play an increased role in their care.

Fundamental shift

PKB aims to put patients in control of their medical records, supported by educational materials and available in 22 different languages, patients can better understand their condition and use the platform to interact with care services differently.

Tom Gausden, PKB’s Lead for Sustainability, says: “That means a fundamental shift away from care happening to a patient, to seeing and treating the patient as a care collaborator. That will enable a patient to truly understand their condition and give them the tools to support the ongoing self-management of it. If the patient’s condition gets worse, they know ahead of time where they can get help.”

Empowering patients

Patients having virtual consultations and not attending clinics reduces the carbon footprint, but PKB suggest it is much more than that.

“The actual benefits come from empowering patients to know more about their condition, to better manage it themselves,and interact with health and care professionals earlier in terms of any exacerbation,” says Gausden.
Examples include a gastroenterology service in Luton where patients were asked to track symptoms over time and send a message if they noticed their condition started to deteriorate.

“That led to savings being made and emergency admissions/surgeries, which are carbon heavy and unnecessary outpatient appointments being avoided,” he says.

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