Have you ever noticed how many posters there are in a doctor’s waiting room? It seems like there’s no point painting the walls of NHS surgeries, as they inevitably get papered over with everything from posters asking when I last had an STD check up, flyers for Afro-Caribbean Elders' Health Services, notices about the next young mums' ante-natal class, colourful pleas for me to stop smoking or take more exercise and the ubiquitous Aids warnings.
There’s no doubt that in a doctor’s surgery, there is a captive audience. People look at their watches and wait to be called, the beep of the doctor’s buzzer punctuating furtive glances over at the table of last year’s Hello! magazines and 1996 editions of Horse & Hound. Someone clearly thinks that advertising Health Services with posters in the waiting room is a good idea, something that increases take-up of services and saves money in the long term by catching problems earlier. For that reason, I’m not going to go into a long winded tome about the evils of excessive government advertising and PR (you can read one of my previous Platform pieces for that), but instead look at how we can use the captive audience of the doctor’s waiting room to improve the quality of care, promote healthy lifestyles, prevention and early detection.
Private medical insurers have long understood the importance of encouraging their customers to be healthy. Previously, this would have meant excluding the irredeemably unhealthy, not covering pre-existing conditions and hiking premiums for age and whether you smoke. That still goes on, of course, but many insurers are looking at ways to decrease the amount of claims made by their customers. Take PruHealth for example: they offer a scheme whereby customers can earn discounts on their premiums if they go to the gym, quit smoking or go for a medical. They even give out pedometers to let people upload how far they’ve walked and offer discounts if you buy healthy food at the supermarket.
Why is it that private companies are so good at encouraging such behaviour? Sure, they have an army of statisticians telling them that it’s better to charge someone £20 a month for being healthy than charge them £30 a month and have to pay for a £20,000 heart bypass at the end of it, but don’t the NHS know that too?