No need to wait: everyone can do more now to share information for the benefit of patients
Alongside the publication of the PPP report on Information Sharing as a route to ‘turbocharging system working’ on 2 May there seems be a growing narrative around the need for improved information sharing for the benefit of patients.
The King’s Fund’s Harry Evans published a blog the same day concluding that ‘if we continue to procrastinate (on information sharing) then there is a risk that the NHS will be left well and truly behind', and Matthew Swindells commented on the urgent need for ‘one set of trustworthy data’ at eHealth week on 3 May. Information sharing may seem an arcane, technical issue, but it is fast becoming one of the biggest challenges to the development of the much-needed new models of care for the NHS.
A new and clear national approach is needed following the pause and eventual stopping of care.data in 2015/16, and there has been much discussion as to how to avoid privacy concerns being overly dominant to the detriment of patient care. But does that mean we need to wait for a new national initiative?
I don’t believe so, as there also things that can be done now. The PPP report, and others, point out that it is in fact cultural barriers – as much as (if not more than) technical or regulatory ones – that are holding up local progress, and these ought to be an immediate focus for local leaders. In addition, there are steps that have already been agreed across the NHS, but are not yet fully in place.
So, what can be done now?
- Emerging STP leadership should set out a clear and compelling case for ‘joined-up patient care’, recruiting patients themselves to the cause, and breaking through any ‘tribal’ barriers built on organisational loyalty, and instead press for a single service view, built around the patient.
- Where steps have already been agreed to make information sharing more open and efficient, these should be comprehensively implemented as soon as possible. For example, as the PPP report points out, the complete elimination of fax machines in favour of digital messaging, and the opening up of records to patient access.
- To promote the right cultural environment, and begin to build a culture of appropriately shared information, the focus should extend beyond the electronic sharing of confidential patient data. It needs to include improving communication around a patient’s care more generally, for example including verbal channels. It also means sharing the other forms of information (eg, non-clinical) that simply allow organisations to understand each other better and work together more efficiently, and should additionally involve collaborating more closely to develop the aggregated information needed to plan more efficient and effective services.
So let’s not wait for national directives, but make it everyone’s business to work out how to provide seamless care around each patient in a way that drives up quality, and cuts costs.