Power to the Patient, but not Patient Power

March 17th, 2007 by Alistair MacDonald Leave a reply »

In year 2000 the Government made a commitment in the NHS Plan to provide a personal bedside television, radio and telephone services in major English hospitals by the end of 2004. This “Patient Power Programme” was to be funded by the private sector and paid for by users.

On the face of it this may not sound a bad thing. The hospitals would same money by not needing to maintain the old audio headset systems. No more having to wheel patients to phones or phones to patients, or pass on massages. Also the patient does not have to share a TV with the ward and has access to many more TV and radio stations, as well as there own phone.

Sadly though, in my opinion, things are not as rosy as they at first seem. My big issues is that for the patient normally looses out. To use the service you have to pay, and it is not cheep. Making calls is normally reasonable when compared with most payphones, but to call in to the patient is extortionate, costing more than most international calls.

What is worse the other options have been taken away. The TV sets that were available in the wards, often paid for by donations, are gone. The portable phones have gone and payphones have have decreased in some hospitals. The real killer is that all the hospitals that allowed a patient to bring in there own portable TVs and radios have had to ban them as part of the agreement with the patient power supplier.

I will also add that I believe the patient power solutions business plans are floored. Most patients are elderly or in for a short period of time. This means that the customer base who are more likely to purchase there product is small. This has, in part, been proved correct as the number of suppliers are declining, and pulling out of hospitals leaving them with nothing.

There are more problems on the horizon as well. Although I do not have access to the accounts of patient power companies I would imagine that most of the profit come form the incoming telephone calls. Recently a report has been published stating that mobile phones are safe to use in hospitals (warning: horrendous simplification) and hospitals are being pushed to lift mobile bans. More information here and here.

Personally the last thing I want is to share a ward with people waffling on the phone all the day, but that can already happen with the patient power system, and with some common sense rules irritation can be minimised.

It appears that many now share my opinion as the share price of the patient power companies has been falling, but after the mobile report a sudden raise happened. On the face of it this may not make sense, but it was actually the result of a “Pump and Dump” conducted on the Internet. This is when positive things are published and leaked to make people want to purchase shares, other lemmings see the rise and buy as well, the person instigating the pump and dump then sellers there shares at the inflated price, and then people wake up with empty pockets. There is an article on Times Online about the insolent.

The following was the email that was sent to people on the Internet, including myself through me media related email addresses. It is not worth reading, I only publish it here so search engines can pick up on it. Remember that Patient line knew nothing about this, just one of the shareholders who wanted to sell up.

Mission of PATIENTLINE

Patientline’s mission is to be the UK market leader in the provision of bedside systems in acute hospitals, offering communication, entertainment, information and healthcare services for patients, clinicians, administrators and other users.

Products and services

The Patientline systems include a terminal at each bed. These provide telephone, television and radio and in most hospitals, internet, gaming and email services. The systems can also provide additional hospital based services such as electronic patient records and food ordering functionality.

A large audience, nationwide coverage and a wide range of advertising options makes Patientline the ideal choice for advertisers.With a TV and telephone at bedsides in over 155 NHS hospitals Patientline can offer advertisers the chance to communicate directly to the patient using the television whilst also providing a strong call to action via the telephone.

+ Over 75,000 bedside TVs and telephones
+ Potential annual audience of 8 million
* Nationwide coverage (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
+ Over 155 NHS hospitals offer Patientline services

The company offers the really necessary service.Any man or women, who will ever get in a hospital will be happy to use the services of the company.The company found an absolutely new direction of business. No doubts that it will come to success in the nearest time.

Company price for 14 March 07 is 1.85p per share.
Call your broker today if you are interested.
At the london stock exchange company stock symbol is PTL.L
Buy it now and get benefits tomorrow.

So what do I think they should be doing. Well my opinion is that they should be giving away free TV to get people using the systems and at least have a passing chance of getting passing trade. Personally I believe that public service TV (BBC & CH4) should be free, but even if it was only BBC2 and News24 there is at least something to watch and get people use to using the hardware. Free radio is just not enough.

The high call charges to call in to a bed is also foolish. Reducing the cost will loose a huge income form families who need to call granny every week, but will increase the use of the system by people, including the number of grannies called every day. This is more relevant now where the companies will need to compete with mobile phones.

The registration process of the systems is also a really big problem. You can not get most systems to do anything without calling up and giving personal information. This is stupid! Most hospitals have people going round helping with this, but it is a real turn off for people. Just have the free services and incoming calls (on systems that have one number per bed) active at all times, and any request minimal information that is needed when information is needed.

Finally I strongly recommend thinking about the customer more and service then. Failure to do this was personified in a discussion that I have with someone from one of the patient power companies. I pointed out that most people in a ward had pushed the screens away because they did not work [without the hassle of registration] and that people who were there for a while had brought in there own TVs. The response was that they should not have personal TVs and they should be removed. I did not respond by saying YOU ARE A SELFISH AND SHORT SIGHTED *** WHO WOULD RATHER MAKE MONEY OUT OF THE ILL BY CREATING A MONOPOLY RATHER THAN SUPPLY A GOOD AND COMPETITIVE PRODUCT, but I felt like it.

To close I strongly recommend not investing in patient power services, I certainly will not until the business models change to something that will form a sustainable business. Sorry for the rant, it has been coming for a while.

Update: Courtesy of the BBC I have uploaded a report about Patientline broadcast on Look North in 2006.

Another Update: Patientline have now decided to dramatically raise the cost of calls in and out of Hospitals. More information is on the BBC News web site.

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