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Viewpoint - The personal touch

Emma Isworth, one of our reader columnists, is pleased to see human contact still has a place in communicating with patients

Around halfway through my 30-year career I was working on a gynaecology ward. Together with the consultant and nurses, we produced a book of advice and information for patients undergoing hysterectomy and other common surgical procedures. We were so proud when the first batch appeared, fresh from the printers. At the same time our good-natured senior house officer arrived with an armful of notes to clerk in that week’s patients. She picked up one of the booklets, leafed through it, pocketed a few and joked: ‘That’s great. Does this mean I won’t have to talk to the patients at all now?’ We all laughed. Wind the clock forward 15 years and that comment comes back to haunt me. We are now deluged with information leaflets, websites, the electronic choose-and-book system, self check-in to see your doctor, NHS Direct... the list is endless. Add to this the multitude of protocols, performance-related pay, patient questionnaires, targets, outcome measures and ‘signposting to other agencies’, and the patient has become all but invisible. Eye contact with a person is the first, intuitive assessment we, as therapists, are able to make and the next is speech, enabling us to discern the level of pain or anxiety. As a patient, I would much rather see and hear the person advising me than click a mouse or read a leaflet. It is immeasurably reassuring, this late in my career, to see students and junior staff as they rotate through the department, still looking at and listening to their patients. Technology is wonderful but human interface is irreplaceable.  Emma Isworth is a senior paediatric physiotherapist at East Kent Hospitals University trust and also works part-time in MSK at an outpatient care centre run by Eastern and Coastal Kent PCT 

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