• Open Access

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


  • John Owens PhD

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

      John Owens, PhD

      Research Associate, Centre for Public Policy Research

      King's College London

      Waterloo Bridge Wing

      Franklin-Wilkins Building

      Waterloo Road, London SE1 9NH


      E-mail: john.owens@kcl.ac.uk

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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.

Methodology and Discussion

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.