Published: 03/02/2005, Volume II4, No. 5941 Page 23

Matt Tee, director of business development, Dr Foster

Much of the media coverage of the National Audit Office's report on choose and book falls into the trap of seeing it as a technology project.

Choose and book is actually about empowering patients and driving improvement in healthcare. The 'book' part will be delivered through an IT solution because it is quick and accurate, but the kit is a means to an end, not the end in itself.

The part of the NAO report that received relatively little attention looked at the basis on which patients and GPs would make a choice about where treatment should take place.

It highlights the importance of information in supporting informed patient choice and says that there is currently insufficient information available to patients, particularly in relation to quality and outcomes, non-NHS providers and total waiting times.

The NAO report goes on to say that 'patients also want specific information on services, rather than the more generalised information available from the Department of Health.' Dr Foster (supported by the Department of Health) is working with primary care trusts in three strategic health authority areas to provide patients and GPs with information that meets their needs.

This includes more detailed information about hospital services and individual consultants than has previously been available.

The patient information is attractively presented and talks through the principles behind choice as well as exploring the factors that a patient might want to take into account when deciding where to be treated.

Without useful information tailored to the needs of patients and GPs, traditional referral patterns will be unchanged, the intended incentive for hospitals to improve will not happen and patients will continue to see the NHS as a bureaucracy arranged for the benefit of those that run it.