Now that the Health and Social Care Act has been passed, the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the driving seat have the enormous task of transforming the way care is delivered in the new NHS while making efficiency savings of £20bn by 2015.
It’s a mammoth challenge – and one that I believe can only be met by putting information technology at the heart of the new ways of working.
Better information – shared across the whole healthcare team – is as essential to excellent care as the latest drug treatment or operating technique. It enables CCGs to provide more flexible and responsive services, to streamline and speed up care pathways for patients, and to drastically reduce administration and paperwork – freeing clinicians to care for their patients.
It’s a must if CCGs are to deliver more efficient care closer to people’s homes – particularly if they are to meet the needs of an increasingly elderly population with multiple, chronic conditions.
But don't just take my word for it – the importance of information sharing is being ably demonstrated by pioneering clinicians across the country.
They are already using cutting-edge technology to enable secure record-sharing between different healthcare professionals, delivering better and more integrated care to patients and helping to reduce health inequalities.
And I’m proud to say that our company – a British one – supplies over 53% of the UK’s GP clinical record systems, that is helping to make it happen. Look behind some of the most innovative health projects in the UK and you will find our EMIS Web system – an integrated computer system that can support the whole healthcare team, from GPs to A&E consultants.
Saving time and money
What are the benefits of sharing patient information? In terms of time and money savings alone, the potential prize for the NHS is huge.
For example, by giving community teams such as district nurses electronic access to patients’ GP-held medical records – instead of their having to get information by phone or fax – NHS Cumbria estimates it has freed up 15% to 20% of their time for clinical care.
In North Mersey, pharmacists working in the acute medical unit are able to see around 140 more patients a month – an increase of 17% – because they have been given direct electronic access to key information on current medications and allergies from patients’ GP-held medical records.
Improving patient care
Patients are also benefiting from better use of information in the NHS. In the Tower Hamlets area of London, MMR vaccination rates have gone up from 80% to 95%, thanks to real-time tracking of immunisations across 35 GP practices. Sharing patient information across the wider healthcare team has enabled the community respiratory team to see people more quickly, with the result that hospital referrals among patients managed by this team have been cut by 73%.
In Liverpool, providing information from the GP record to community teams has enabled a community-based anti-coagulation service to deliver 13,831 local consultations that would normally have been done at a higher cost in hospital. Over 1,000 patients were treated within 15 minutes of their home.
Connecting the wider NHS
The driving force for these projects has been the freeing up of information from the GP-held patient record for use by other healthcare professionals. GPs in the UK have been information experts for years – a recent report pointed out that they are world leaders in this field.
But other parts of the NHS desperately need to catch up – and suppliers must provide computer systems that make it easy for CGGs to implement genuinely joined-up care.
My hopes for the future
As CCGs begin the task of applying the new legislation, the government’s long-awaited information strategy ‘The Power of Information’ released on May 21, could not have been more timely.
The new strategy dovetails with our business’s emphasis on integrated care systems based on the principles of connectivity, and the support of clinical and patient portals that give a more joined up view of the patient record. The move to local decision-making and innovation is also welcome.
The benefits of using technology to deliver better healthcare are already clear – now is the time to give clinicians the resources and the freedom to use it.