Chris Netherton

Chris Netherton

Managing Director, Microtest

We should all be really proud of the fact that the UK has been one of the fastest adopters of eHealth technologies in the world, particularly in the area of Electronic Health Records (EHR). In fact, the UK is currently the largest EHR market in Europe. It is in all our interests to make sure that this momentum is maintained and that we continue to set standards other countries seek to emulate.

The NHS identified very early on that clinical I.T. systems could have a huge role to play in increasing efficiencies within healthcare and helping to achieve more with existing staff resources, while also helping to improve the quality of care given to patients.

The medical profession has benefited from injections of government funding to stimulate the growth of clinical I.T. systems. Providers such as ourselves have risen to the challenge, so that we have now reached the point where over 95% of GP practices in the UK have some form of Electronic Health Record. This is an amazing success story.

The next stage needs to be the wider adoption and use of Electronic Health Records by hospitals and high care providers, especially when you consider our ageing population and the type of care that more and more of us will need in future.

As the number of people with long term health conditions increases, information sharing between the various care providers will be a vital foundation for the ongoing management of their illness.

But UK hospitals still lag behind GP practices in their use of electronic records. In September 2015, Deloitte’s reported that only 50% of hospital trusts in the UK were using some kind of Electronic Health Record. However, a number of trusts were expected to start upgrading their systems from this year. Obviously this begs the question: how quickly could they get to 100%?

The USA provides an interesting comparison. In 2010, the proportion of their hospitals using EHRs stood at a disappointing 16%. Then rapid growth was stimulated by the HITECH Act, within which the government directed the regulators to promote the widespread adoption and ‘meaningful use’ of Electronic Health Records. The USA has quickly progressed to a position where 76% of hospitals now use EHRs. (Certain states are much higher, Delaware being the star performer with 100% adoption.)

In the UK, NHS England is already providing additional financial investment for those selected acute trusts which show outstanding performance in the move to modern EHR technology, with the creation of its ‘centres of global digital excellence’ programme. I believe this will provide further stimulation and inspiration for the rest of the profession.

Here at Microtest, we are already gathering many exciting case studies revealing how access to EHRs has improved patient care and allowed medical professionals to work in a more streamlined way. For example, the pharmacy team at Royal Cornwall Hospital have improved the accuracy of their medicines reconciliations while also saving over 200 man hours a month from their processes, enabling pharmacists to spend this time more productively. Meanwhile, at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, members of the Diabetes Inpatient team are now able to access vital GP patient clinical records via our Guru system, as it allows two-way remote access to GP patient records. The hospital team have reported that this is making valuable savings in time and effort, while also improving the quality of outcome for the patients.

The more our hospitals share their experiences of the fantastic benefits offered by EHRs, the greater desire there will be among all other hospitals to adopt them as quickly as possible.

We also need to ensure that patients are totally reassured as to the security and confidentiality of their records and that they have complete control over who their information is shared with. It is really important that we adhere closely to the six Caldicott Principles regarding the handling of patient-identifiable information, so that we continually build the trust and confidence of patients.

Many patients have concerns about the concept of electronic record sharing and the industry needs to work jointly to address this as EHR cannot continue to grow without their buy in.

It is completely understandable that patients should have some concerns about electronic record sharing as stories of data theft are so often in the news. Only this month Yahoo! was in the headlines regarding the extraordinary theft of 500 million customer records. This is why, at Microtest, we spend massive amounts of time perfecting our security systems and subjecting them to exhaustive penetration testing. This is also why with Guru no remote clinician sees any part of the patient record until such time as the patient explicitly agrees.

Patients also need to be educated about the benefits to them of the move to EHRs, in terms of faster, more accurate and higher quality care, with closer collaboration between the different care providers. I think most patients would also be happy to consent to their records being used for medical research purposes, when they understand that this could be crucial for improving our treatment of certain illnesses in the future – and when they are reassured that they always retain complete control over who their records can be shared with.

As we move forward with these exciting developments and EHRs become standard practice in all hospitals in the UK, it opens up the possibility for completely new standards of ‘joined up healthcare’, delivering a better experience for patients and a bright future where the UK continues to be a leading player on the international stage.

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