NHS IT 'does have benefits'

Doctor with a laptop Sharing patient information 'helps care'

Great possibilities are claimed for information technology in the NHS - but the reality is very different.

In this week's Scrubbing Up Paul Curley, clinical director for IM&T at Mid-Yorks Hospitals NHS Trust, says that despite the problems, successful IT is crucial to the future of the NHS.

Information about the right patient, in the right place at the right time is the mantra frequently trotted out glibly about healthcare IT.

Huge improvements in quality and reduction in risk are claimed.

The government's recently published Information Strategy calls for patients to have access to their records by 2014.

But what does this mean? Is it just GP records? Does it refer to records in all hospitals patients have ever attended? What would such records look like? How could they be interpreted? And if they are not held electronically do we ignore them?

None of this is clear.

Holiday care

It is clear that the promise of Connecting for Health - the body that looks after the NHS's IT infrastructure - was attractive; similar systems up and down the country, standards for data collection, easy data exchange between healthcare workers.

But even now the success of local PACS systems (Picturing Archiving and Communication) for digital X-Rays is not mirrored by sharing through a central repository.

Does the current situation have implications for the quality of health care? Yes.

Start Quote

It is possible to collect and share clinical information safely, securely and to the benefit of patients”

End Quote

Patients on holiday in one part of the country who fall ill cannot be assured that clinicians will have access to hospital records - or X-rays - in their home county.

Current figures for uptake of the Summary Care Record (information held electronically about medications and allergies and available nationally) show only 25% with such a record.

But what do those of us interested in this field do?

Do we keep moaning about what has not been delivered?

Or are we the best chance of delivering the potential that so many of us hoped a joined up system might realise?

Functionality

I passionately believe that it is possible to collect and share clinical information safely, securely and to the benefit of patients.

I believe that clinicians in the NHS have the ingenuity and commitment to doggedly focus on the real end game - nationally available health care records for patients and clinicians.

In Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust we have scanned 200m pages of medical records and made them available across the organisation.

We have developed search functionality to find information in individual records or across multiple records and believe this is improving reliability of access to information to the benefit of patient care.

Clinicians can discuss patients whilst looking at information simultaneously in different physical locations and information is available 24/7 without moving it across large areas.

Thought is also required about security of information.

Within the NHS, healthcare workers are very aware of the importance of confidentiality and most agree that IT systems can be fundamentally more secure - and easier to control - than paper records.

Security based on a person's role can be used to limit access to records and, of course the absence of paper case notes avoids physical loss or casual access.

A solution to all of these issues needs to be developed in a new partnership.

Let industry, healthcare IT workers and clinicians solve 80% of the problems.

Release the NHS to do what it does best - innovate and deliver, often on modest budgets.

Let's get away from the huge bureaucracy, let clinicians engage meaningfully with the Department of Health and crack this issue.

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