NHS Trust Leads Way With E-Patient Records Project

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While the  £12.7 billion NHS upgrade scheme has yet to deliver,  one NHS Trust has gone ahead with its own patient record system – and expects to save £3.2 million

An NHS Trust expects to save £3.2 million with a system for patient records – which it says will not conflict with the national scheme promised in the controversial and much-delayed national system included in the £12.7 billion NHS National  Programme for IT.

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals National Health Service (NHS) has invested £1 million in an electronic document management system which it says will radically improve the way it handles and distributes health records. It uses C-Cube software from OITUK, as well as Kodak i660 and i780 scanners to digitise key patient documents and clinical notes, with the objective of saving £3.2 million over the next five years.

Neil Darvill, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust director of informatics told eWEEK Europe the basic driver for the project was to get the right patient notes to the right clinical staff at the right times. “We were never going to be able to do that efficiently shifting paper around,” he said.

Where files associated with 250,000 outpatient appointments annually alone have to be managed, he said a phased project implementation across departments encompassing only documents created or required would avoid trying to “boil the ocean,” as he put it.

Having started with the respiratory, dermatology and ophthalmology departments, the Trust plans to roll the e-health records facility out across all its existing and new hospitals, and beyond.

“There are benefits from the perspective of our health economy,” said Darvill. “We have 14,000 users on our network, including GPs, across 340 sites that we operate a shared service for and which connects all the healthcare services in Merseyside to our spine.

“We will be able to share the investment to get detailed clinical information about patients back to their GPs so they can be aware of all treatment in hospital along with other nursing staff.”

David Whitton, Kodak’s UK sales manager commented: “In contrast to common perceptions and frequent media reports, the project at St Helens and Knowsley clearly shows that public sector IT implementations, particularly in the NHS, can be successful.”

Darvill added that the project would have been much harder to implement if the Trust’s existing internal administration systems and management processes not been so well developed.

Although the project handles patient records, there is no overlap with the seriously-delayed record system planned for the NHS’ 50 million patients as part of the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT, said the Trust. As that programme has hit delays, Trusts have been allowed to use off-the-shelf software for other needs such as email, and operate more locally.

“We’ve been very careful not to cut across what the NPfIT is doing,” said Darvill. “Our position is that we continue to remain supportive of the National Programme. But working on our systems agenda means we already have a lot of what it’s [currently] working to implement from a legacy perspective.”

“The work we’ve done on this project helps us upscale our capabilities from a core systems perspective,” he said. “So, our position gives us a large window of opportunity to do these kinds of projects at a local level. At the same time, we’ve made sure our single sign-on solution uses the NHS smartcard and this system sits nicely beneath that. We use SQL and HL7-standard NHS interfaces. But we’re not able to know at this stage how our project will fit with the NPfIT, because it hasn’t issued the guidelines on that part of the Programme yet.”

“Who knows,” he said, “maybe we can get the Programme to come and have a look at what we’ve done here.”