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The digitisation of patient data: why share?

This week’s feature is about the digitisation and sharing of patient data between primary care sectors - join us today as we’ll be discussing if it works.

Posted: 19 January 2016

If you missed yesterday’s episode of our weekly feature, click here - or continue reading about why digitising and sharing patient data is so important.

This is a positive step forward in the ongoing process to move the different healthcare professions away from accusations of becoming silos of patient data and towards a more holistic model of care.

October’s new requirement for organisations to share patient information means that health and care professionals must update a patient's record and make sure that the next person to treat them knows the full details of their history.

“This is great news for patients and their carers,” according to Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP, who says it is “vital for patient safety, reducing misdiagnosis or treatment errors, and empowering patients and their carers and loved ones with up-to-date information on their care.”

The result is that patients only have to tell their story once, with their NHS Number now used as a single identifier to ensure the information shared between different care settings is accurate.

Will it work?

The pharmacy sector already has experience of sharing patient data across professional groups to improve care. The Health and Social Care Information Centre worked closely with Pharmacy Voice and its members in England on a pilot to share access to the Summary Care Record (SCR), which John Palmer, IT lead at Pharmacy Voice, says “demonstrated benefits to patients, pharmacy and general practice”.

These included:
• the pharmacist avoiding the need to signpost the patient to other NHS care settings in 92 per cent of encounters where SCR was accessed;
• 85 per cent of pharmacists surveyed agreeing or strongly agreeing that SCR reduced the need for them to contact the patient’s GP; and
• avoiding the risk of a prescribing error in 18 per cent of encounters.

But some health sectors still have a way to go. Optometrist Peter Hampson, director at the Association of Optometrists (AOP) and chair of the AOP IT Group, says: “Unfortunately optical practices do not have the mechanisms to communicate data electronically, due to being the only primary care provider that has not received any funding to provide these connections. This means that optical practices are often using 20th century communication tools in the 21st century.”

Hunt has also said that his ambition is to get a quarter of smartphone users – 15 per cent of all NHS patients – routinely accessing NHS advice, services and medical records through apps by the end of the next financial year, and that he wants patients “not just to be able to read their medical record on their smartphone but to add to it, whether by recording their own comments or by plugging in their own wearable devices to it.”

This sounds ambitious, particularly as Department of Health statistics claim that although 84 per cent of the UK population use the internet and 59 per cent use a smartphone, just two per cent have had any digital interaction with the NHS.

However, Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, chief medical officer at primary healthcare clinical software supplier EMIS Group, stresses that “the technology exists to enable citizens to access their records via a smartphone” and says that putting patients in charge of their own medical records is “one way to keep data safer” because “putting our records in our own hands means we can choose to share information with clinicians wherever we are cared for”.

Tune in tomorrow as we'll be talking about the pros and cons of data sharing