A pilot project which enables GPs and hospital clinicians to securely view each other’s patient records is to be rolled out across west Suffolk.
The information-sharing scheme has been road-tested by patient volunteers at Hardwicke House surgery in Sudbury for the past 12 months.
And it has proved so effective that it is now in the process of being introduced at 10 other practices in the west of the county.
It is hoped that the project, which relies on patients giving their consent for their personal data to be shared, will soon be in operation across the whole of Suffolk.
The Health Information Exchange (HIE) scheme enables the medical records held by a patient’s GP to be accessible to hospital doctors and nursing staff, and vice versa.
It increases efficiency and improves healthcare by speeding up treatment times and significantly reducing the number of wasted or cancelled appointments.
Previously GPs and hospital staff have had to spend a lot of time chasing up each other’s medical notes, causing delays in treating patients.
A pilot scheme was launched early last year involving volunteer patients from Hardwicke House, which has practices in Sudbury, Great Cornard, Bures and Clare.
The practice caters for around 23,000 patients – around nine per cent of West Suffolk Hospital’s catchment area.
Phil Worsley, secretary of the Patient Participation Group at Hardwicke House, said: “My fellow PPG members and I think that the principle of sharing medical records between GPs and hospitals is an excellent initiative.
“Some people get uptight about the thought of their personal data being shared, but our members were happy to give consent for their medical records to be accessed.
“Many people have experienced cancelled or wasted appointments due to their GP or hospital staff not being able to access each other’s records.
“Only recently a patient who had been discharged from West Suffolk Hospital told me their GP was able to access all their records from the ward and consultant the following day.”
David Cripps, Practice Manager at Hardwicke House, said: “Currently too many patients are turning up at hospital for appointments only to be sent home because their GP has been unable to supply the necessary paperwork.
“The patient’s time is being wasted, the doctor’s time is being wasted, nurses’ time is being wasted – all of which delays treatment and costs the NHS money.
“Information sharing with consent makes patient care safer, saves money and increases efficiency.
“If we want a sustainable local hospital we have to move processes into the 21st Century and use technology to help us to help patients.”
Dr Dermot O’Riordan, Chief Clinical Information Officer for the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said the HIE scheme would benefit patients hugely.
“It’s really exciting because it breaks down the barriers between different clinical IT systems regarding the information being held on patients,” he said.
“The scheme enables GPs and hospital clinicians to access the most up-to-date data held on an individual. This information is only used for direct patient care.
“If a confused patient is admitted to hospital overnight we can access their GP records to see what medication they’re on and what allergies they might have. We can also check if they have underlying chronic health problems.
“We’ve already had examples of cancer treatment being sped up because fellow clinicians have been able to see the results of tests patients had already undergone.
“This scheme is part of a much larger ongoing e-Care project. West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is committed to giving patients access their own medical records and results.”
Patients can authorise sharing of their medical records at any time. They will also be asked to consent when attending surgery or hospital for treatment or appointments.
But in an emergency, if a patient is unable to give their consent, a clinician can assume consent to check on existing health conditions, medication and allergies. A log is kept of every time a patient’s records are accessed.
The ultimate aim is for all healthcare professionals, including paramedics, district nurses and physiotherapists, to have access to patient records.
The pilot scheme is currently being rolled out to the Market Cross, Botesdale, Woolpit, Brandon, Victoria Street, Angel Hill, Long Melford, Wickhambrook, Stanton and Clare Guildhall practices.
It is hoped to extend the scheme to the remaining 13 practices in west Suffolk – all of which use a different IT system – by the end of summer.
The HIE project in west Suffolk is in line with plans for the NHS to go completely paperless by 2020.