Data sharing will benefit patients

31 May 2012

Improving the safety and quality of healthcare delivery is undoubtedly the shared goal of everyone who works with or within the NHS (NHS information strategy gives green light to UK-wide data sharing). The Health and Social Care Act is the latest attempt to pave the way for a patient-centric, integrated care model in the UK. But
to get there, the NHS must step into the 21st century in terms of its use of technology.

Delivering a world-class integrated care model in the UK, as outlined in the Act and the NHS Information Strategy, will depend heavily on the ability of health and social care systems to maximise the power of the information they generate. But this requires some joined-up thinking. Sharing information across organisational boundaries in the NHS and social care will depend on the ability of IT systems to talk to one another. To achieve this, the challenge of interoperability must be overcome.

The need for a standards-based, rather than a product-based, approach to interoperability is unequivocal. Companies wishing to supply IT solutions to the NHS must unite around a common data model and a common coding system, and comply with the Information Standards Board outputs that already exist.

In truth, most of what is required to develop national standards has already been written. It simply needs to be put in place and be directive enough to make a difference.

But for the NHS, the challenge is not just technological. It is cultural. The health service, under pressure to make cost savings and quality gains in equal measure, is changing – and NHS professionals need to change with it.
Clinicians are increasingly being challenged to become more innovative in the way that they work, while healthcare providers are being asked to reconfigure services so that they are more convenient and patient-centric. But once these new services have been designed, developed and implemented, the true benefits will only be realised when they are underpinned by appropriate technologies to support them.

Those technologies are already there. Using them would ensure that the right information is available to the right person, in the right place and at the right time. And the biggest beneficiary will be the patient.

Professor Michael Thick, vice-president clinical strategy and governance, McKesson, ex-senior medical adviser to the Choose and Book and PACS Programmes, and ex-chief clinical officer to Connecting for Health

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