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Posted 5 Nov 2014 in Patient Safety Week

For many New Zealanders, general practice and pharmacy visits are their most frequent interaction with health services, but are they getting as much out of them as they could?

Let’s PLAN for better care, launched as part of the inaugural Patient Safety Week, 3 to 9 November, is a Health Quality & Safety Commission initiative to help patients prepare for health care appointments and find out more about their medicine at pharmacies.

The A4 flyer, with an accompanying promotional poster, encourages people to plan ahead for practice visits and to ask doctors and nurses questions when there so they fully understand their diagnosis and treatment. It also suggests questions they can ask pharmacy staff.

PLAN stands for: ‘P = Prepare for your visit; L = Listen and share; A = Ask questions; N = Note down what you need to do next.’ The back of the flyer has space for patients’ questions and notes.

Doctors and nurses like patients to be well prepared for their visit to the doctor, says Tony Dowell, a Wellington GP and Professor of General Practice at the University of Otago, Wellington.

‘We want patients to be able to tell their story well because it helps in the diagnosis. And we do like patients clarifying things. We want them to be safe. If they go away with misunderstandings about what has been discussed, that can be potentially dangerous.

‘GPs already encourage patients to ask questions and help them to make their voice heard. But we can always enhance that, and having a structured way to do it, such as Let’s PLAN, is a great boost.’

Let’s PLAN has been tested with groups of different ethnicities, and piloted in medical practices and pharmacies in Hawke’s Bay and Auckland. It is available free of charge to general practices and pharmacies, and copies can also be downloaded from the Commission’s website.

‘Our consumer network started the ball rolling with Let’s PLAN and has been involved as we have developed it,’ says Dr Chris Walsh, the Commission’s Director of Partners in Care. ‘When visiting your doctor or nurse, it is easy to forget or not mention health information that can sometimes be really important. Let’s PLAN will help patients gather their thoughts before their visit, making it more efficient for both them and their health providers.’