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Two-thirds of practice managers back electronic health records

8 April 2009

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Two-thirds of practice managers believe shared electronic medical records will benefit patients, according to an online Management in Practice, survey.

Plans to introduce the Summary Care Record, which will enable healthcare professionals anywhere in England to access a consenting individual’s medical history electronically, have previously raised concern among GPs over patient confidentiality.

Some reports even suggest that many GPs plan to conduct a blanket opt-out of all their patients from the data-sharing scheme, a move opposed by Connecting for Health, the government agency for delivering healthcare IT, which says patients should be able to decide whether to opt-out themselves.

However, by contrast, 66% of GP managers responding to the Management in Practice survey said that the Summary Care Record would benefit patients, with only just over 2% believing it would not (the remainder were unsure or thought that electronic records would not make a difference to patient care).

“Clinicians will no longer have to rely on a patient giving an accurate history at every encounter,” said an assistant practice manager from Bristol. For a practice manager in Surrey, shared records promised “better information available to all” and “not having to rely on patients’ memories”.

“I am delighted by the positive reaction by practice managers,” said Dr Gillian Braunold, Clinical Director for the Summary Care Record at NHS Connecting for Health, in response to the survey. “Our managers understand the benefits the Summary Care Record will bring patients.”

The survey suggests that practice managers would even like to see shared information extend beyond patient records. When asked what single innovation in general practice IT they would like to see, respondents overwhelmingly wanted an integrated and “compatible” information system between surgeries and hospitals.

Even Choose and Book, the government’s flagship system of booking GP referrals electronically, was met with approval by the majority of practice managers, despite many GPs reporting system slowness and unreliability.

Though by no means universally popular – a manager from the West Midlands reported that “Choose and Book has caused endless problems with staff and for patients” – nonetheless 54% of survey respondents believed that a failure to utilise it disadvantaged patients, and a further 23% were undecided about this.

“Although slow to start with, Choose and Book has become a fantastic system,” said an assistant practice manager from Manchester. “It allows patients to feel a bit more at ease knowing they have an appointment.” A business manager from Suffolk said: “When it works, patients get a better service through Choose and Book.”

This reaction is in contrast to a report from the British Medical Association in January, which found that many doctors were still struggling with Choose and Book – some to the extent that they found it was “not worth using”.

GP Dr Grant Ingrams, of the British Medical Association’s IT Committee, said the Management in Practice results reflected how well Choose and Book was now operating throughout the country, despite early teething problems. He is now using it routinely to his patients’ benefit.

In other findings from the Management in Practice survey, more and more practices seem to be embracing technology as a means to improve patient services and access. For instance, more than three-quarters of the practices polled facilitate email requests for repeat prescriptions, and one in five allowing new patients to register online.

Responding to the survey results, practice management consultant Fiona Dalziel said: “What leaps out is how much practices have moved to embrace the opportunities that IT offers, especially in the last 2–3 years.”

To see the full survey report, click here.

For more on Management in Practice surveys, click here.