Systems that cannot talk to each other putting patients at risk, researchers suggest

A team of researchers at the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) at Imperial College London, have published findings that highlight NHS Trusts were using at least 21 different electronic medical record systems which are unable to effectively share information.

The report stated “On 11 million occasions, patients attended a hospital that could not access medical full information from their previous hospital visit.”

Researchers also found that 25% were still using paper records and 77% that are using electronic records still face major problems.

Dr Leigh Warren, clinical research fellow at Imperial’s IGHI and first author of the research, said “Patients expect their health records to be shared seamlessly between hospitals and healthcare settings that they move between. They cannot understand why, in the National Health Service, this is not the case.”

“Yet hospitals and GPs often don’t have the right information about the right patient in the right place at the right time. This can lead to errors and accidents that can threaten patients’ lives. This is a complex issue, but our work shows how existing data can be used to develop a road map towards better coordination and safer care.”

Professor the Lord Ara Darzi, lead author and co-director of the IGHI, said “Electronic health records have been heralded as a solution to increasingly stretched healthcare systems, yet our research shows that the challenge is far greater than simple adoption of this innovation.”

“It is vital that policy-makers act with urgency to unify fragmented systems and promote better data sharing in areas where it is needed most, or risk the safety of patients.”

The researchers looked at data from 152 acute hospital trusts in NHS England over a one-year period between April 2017 and April 2018. More than 21 million patients were included in the analysis.

Of the trusts that were using electronic data, the study found that there was limited regional alignment of the systems used to process and store these records.

The vast majority (92 trusts, 79 per cent) employed one of 21 different commercially available systems, and 10 per cent (12 trusts) were using multiple different systems within the same hospital.

By analysing hospital episodes statistics, the researchers went on to identify almost four million patients that attended two or more trusts during the study period. The analysis revealed that these patients often had consecutive encounters at hospitals with incompatible data systems, accounting for 9 per cent of all hospital encounters.

The work also revealed 20 pairs of hospitals that commonly cared for many of the same patients, with just two of these trusts used the same electronic health record systems.