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Health Expect. 2015 Feb;18(1):22-31. doi: 10.1111/hex.12000. Epub 2012 Sep 4.

Creating an impersonal NHS? Personalization, choice and the erosion of intimacy.

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  • 1Research Associate, Centre for Public Policy Research, King's College London, London, UK.



Personalization - most often understood in terms of granting patients greater opportunity to participate in, and make choices about, the services they receive - has become a key principle guiding reform of the English NHS.


This study sets out to explore the relationship between two senses of the term 'personal' within the context of personalization. Firstly, much of the policy literature equates a 'personal' service with one that is responsive to the choices of individual patients. Secondly, the term 'personal' can be thought to refer to the intimate relationships between patients and medical professionals that have typified traditional models of good practice.


I combine a review of the relevant academic and policy literature on personalization with a process of conceptual analysis to uncover three arguments, which suggest that personalization based on choice may adversely affect standards of care by eroding the qualities of intimacy at the heart of the care process. Thus, an unintended consequence of the drive for personalization may be the creation of an NHS that is, in an important sense, less personal than it once was.


Whilst personalization may deliver many potential benefits, the tension between promoting patient choice and retaining intimate professional-patient relationships ought to be taken seriously. Thus, the task of promoting choice whilst retaining intimacy represents a key policy challenge for advocates of personalization.

© 2012 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


NHS reform; co-production; consumer; direct payments; doctor-patient relationship; intimacy; patient choice; patient-centred; personal budgets; personalization

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