Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer is urging patients to get more involved in their treatment in an effort to move away from a “doctor knows best” culture.
Dr Catherine Calderwood has laid out plans in her annual Practising Realistic Medicine report to help patients inform themselves before they discuss treatment options with their GP.
The report calls for a shift in attitudes that would see steps taken to help people get the most out of conversations with their doctor or nurse.
Currently four health boards – NHS Borders, Forth Valley, Dumfries and Galloway and Lanarkshire – are highlighting five key questions that patients are being asked to put to their GPs during appointments.
The five questions to ask your doctor:
1. Is this test, treatment or procedure really needed?
2. What are the potential benefits and risks?
3. What are the possible side effects?
4. Are there simpler, safer or alternative treatment options?
5. What would happen if I did nothing
The report also provides an update on the Chief Medical Officer’s National Atlas of Variation for Health and Health Care, with the online publication going live in June.
Speaking at the launch of her report at Airdrie Community Health Practice, Dr Calderwood said: “We want to ensure patients receive care and treatment that’s right for them.
“I want to see a change in culture to one where both professionals and people receiving care combine their expertise and become more comfortable in sharing decision making.
“That’s why the five questions feature in my report, because they offer a simple and straightforward way to have better conversations between doctors, patients and their families.
“One of the ways in which we can bring realistic medicine into practice is by addressing the harm and waste caused by over provision and over treatment.
“By freeing up resources which are currently being used to no clinical benefit, we will be able to re-invest in health care that provides better value to patients.”
Dr Calderwood also said in her report that benefits’ sanctions introduced by the UK government may have had an “adverse impact” on the mental health of the poorest Scots.
And the report discussed how Scotland “would be one of the healthiest countries in Europe” if everyone enjoyed the same level of health as those living in the most affluent areas.
Brian Sloan, chief executive of charity Age Scotland, said: “This is a welcome step that will help patients make informed choices about their care. We hope it will lead to more open conversations between doctors and patients, as well as cutting down on unnecessary treatment.
“Most older patients rely on their GP for health advice, but it’s easy to get confused by medical information or think ‘the doctor always knows best’.
“Encouraging patients to ask these five simple questions will put them back in control of their own health, and improve their confidence and wellbeing.
“It’s important that everyone has equal access to data about health outcomes. We know that a high proportion of older people aren’t online and this increases with age. We hope this data will be accessible to everyone in a form that is easy to understand.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said this new approach had the potential to bring about a “cultural shift” where patients were better informed and could take more personal responsibility for their health.
He said: “I welcome this move for patients having more input in their treatments, but ultimately it’s the doctors who are the medical professionals.
“At the same time it is important for doctors to take into consideration the personal circumstances of patients that they are treating, to provide a treatment that is tailored to the individual.
“Patients being more aware of their options will allow them to have better conversations with their doctors to get the care that is best for them.”