Improving service provision by engaging patients as a healthcare consultant

Pharmacist Mark Duman helps organisations improve their services and products by involving patients and the public. He advocates sharing knowledge with patients to help them make informed choices about their healthcare.

Mark Duman,

What is your role and what are your main responsibilities?

I have a variety of roles in different companies. I am director of Monmouth Partners, a consulting firm that helps healthcare organisations better engage with patients and with data. I also run my own healthcare consulting company, MD Healthcare, which helps organisations better understand and access the UK healthcare market. Additionally, I am a non-executive director of the Patient Information Forum (PiF), which is involved in lobbying government and healthcare commissioners and providers to recognise the concept of “information as a therapy”. When practitioners give information to patients, it should be tailored to their needs and recorded, because it can have an impact on their health and behaviour.

What skills have you developed through your work?

Listening is a vital skill in consultancy. I have realised that I talk too much. I am trying to listen and hear what people are, and are not, saying, and assist them in producing a solution. This is as applicable in clinical care as it is in consulting, if not more so. Patience is also important — things can take time, particularly in the NHS.

Although it helps to be positive and tell people and organisations what they are doing well, I also do not hold back from asking them why they do things in a certain way. Often, they have not had a chance to reflect on what they are doing, they are just doing it. This is particularly important in the digital revolution — we should be careful not to just make bad processes more efficient, but to rethink them instead if necessary.

What tips would you give to a pre-registration trainee hoping to pursue a career in consultancy?

I would advise pre-registration trainees to get at least two years of experience in practice before they consider going into consultancy. Additionally, I recommend shopping around for a job, not just taking the first position that arises. Speak to consultants and their clients to get a feel for the market and how they really deliver.

Once you have secured a role, negotiate at least half a session a week in clinical practice — it makes sense to keep your hand in and remain a real clinician.

Finally, be aware that consultancy can be frustrating. Clients often do not know what they want, or they think they do but are wrong. Projects can also take a while to come to fruition, and consultants are often involved at the beginning, the middle or the end, but rarely see it through.

In the past 12 months, which major projects have you been involved in?

I supported the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s Cosmetic Surgery Interspecialty Committee in engaging patients and the public in its work, and audited its current information provision. Similarly, I worked with clinical commissioning groups in the north of England to help them understand which products and services to commission, and how to commission services to engage patients in their own healthcare.

The PiF published a document in May 2013, ‘Making the case for information’, which argues that patients must have access to all the relevant information to be able to make choices about their healthcare. I have been involved in disseminating this paper, arguing for more investment in high-quality information and support for patients.

I have also worked on developing a guide for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and National Voices about how patient groups and pharmaceutical companies can work together to benefit patients.

What have been the key milestones in your career?

I worked at the King’s Fund for two years in 1996. I loved working with intelligent people looking into the future of healthcare, and designing and testing new models of care. It took almost 20 years for the work we were doing around promoting patient choice to come to full realisation in policy terms (the paper ‘No decision about me without me’ was published in 2011). As a profession, I think pharmacy struggles to move policies from theory to practice.

I also found it inspiring to work at the BBC from 1998 to 2000, where I was part of a project to encourage 270,000 people to lose weight by joining their local ‘Fighting fat, fighting fit’ club. Following this, I was involved in setting up a formal evaluation of the change in behaviour, resulting in the publication of peer-reviewed papers on the impact of the campaign.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

My work covers the NHS, patient groups, clinicians and commercial organisations so my days are varied. Additionally, covering so many areas means there is an opportunity for cross-fertilisation of ideas. Nowadays, I believe we need to think about how different organisations can work in partnership.

I also meet a lot of people, both in person and virtually. I’m a LinkedIn addict and I’m slowly getting into Twitter. This allows me to influence others, and be influenced by them.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 14 February 2015, Vol 294, No 7849;294(7849):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20067271

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