For me the key purpose of PHIN is to provide useful information that patients can consider when making choices about private healthcare, particularly regarding their consultants and hospitals. This was the role given to us by the Competition and Market Authority in 2015.

I act as the patient voice within PHIN, and I’m helped in this by collecting all sorts of feedback from thousands of visitors to our website as well as speaking personally with many patients too. This information is so important to guide us when we’re making improvements to the website, both in terms of appearance, functionality and content.

In recent months many more patients have visited the PHIN website – it’s been a fairly steady line of growth in recent years, given a big boost from our website re-launch in summer 2021:

Consultant profiles are a big draw

The short survey on our website tells us that around 97% of visitors are patients, though we also get consultants, hospitals, insurers and regulators looking at its pages. More than half look at the 9,000+ consultant profiles on the website, a quarter of visitors view the PHIN condition and procedure guides or our news articles, and most of the remainder click onto the 500 hospital profiles that we maintain. We also get many thousands of people annually looking at our datasheets, which contain a more systematic view of our published measures.

We’re obviously keen to grow this traffic so that patients have useful and comparable information to hand. The majority of visitors to the website do find the information they’re looking for, and find their experience of navigating around the pages easy. Their greatest reason for disappointment is when consultants’ profiles are simply not there or are incomplete. What I can see from the data is that the consultants and hospitals who have completed profiles attract many times more views than those who don’t, including profiles, photos and so on. It’s a very pronounced difference, and we’re also keen to get as many consultants and hospitals participating as possible.

Three options after viewing the site

When patients visit the PHIN website they tend to do one of three things. Over a third do something tangible like speak to their GP, book an appointment or call up their insurer. For another third, PHIN’s information forms part of their decision making, and they may then consult with friends or family, or perhaps visit other websites. Lastly just under a third may then do nothing at all – we have to remember that the majority of private care is for planned rather than urgent treatment, and so this may just be information to keep in mind for a future moment; or they’ve found something that made them think again about having that operation. Of all the information that people want to see, it’s about the cost of treatment, and sometimes these can be very difficult decisions.

Making complex data accessible and useful

The challenge for PHIN is that all of our information is taken from highly complex and detailed treatment data, plus procedural and diagnostic coding that comes from hospitals. That data may be complete or incomplete, depending on what each hospital sends us. What we then do is to turn some very complex coding and terminology into something that needs to be understandable to a patient who may not be at all familiar with private healthcare, its particular terms and language. But our goal is to bring all that information into language and numbers that can readily help inform patients’ decisions.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re onto it. We now have a patient-focused group that regularly meets to see everything from the patient’s perspective (and based on their feedback) and prioritises delivery of improvements according to what matters most to patients. Personally, I’m confident that increasingly people will be able to find here a range of information that’s useful and suitable for their needs, in a way that’s comparable, valid and also easy to understand. 

And I always welcome any feedback, if it helps us do a better job.

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