The Department of Health has today published an information strategy and a document on extending patient choice. The two consultation papers amount to what the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley calls a "choice and information revolution".
The documents eschew the centralist approach of the National Programme for IT - though the Department of Health says it plans to spend a further £5bn on the NPfIT.
The three main themes of the two papers released today are:
- patients taking control of their health records
- patients choosing their provider for diagnosis and which team, led by a named consultant, they wish to be seen by. They should also be able to choose what treatment they have after diagnosis. Mental health patients will have a say in their treatment and provider of services.
- openness of information on the quality, or poor quality, of healthcare services. The Information Centre will become the single, national repository for data collected from NHS and social care organisations. It will have powers to minimise bureaucracy and eradicate duplication in the data that is collected.
Sceptics who have seen the DH launch several information strategies over the past 20 years may say that these latest launch documents are, once again, idealistic and impractical to implement.
On the other hand the Coalition's documents represent good intentions; and, as the information strategy says, patients should be able to use accurate data to compare one part of the NHS with another.
"The current reality is that all too often those who use health and care services, or work in the organisations providing them, feel that they are not in control," says the strategy document.
"Much of the frustration within today’s care system has, at its root, information: the service user asked to give the same information for the third time; the worried patient waiting for a test result; the clinician filling out data returns that will not help improve care; the member of the public unable to compare one service with another.
"The scale of the challenge in turning this situation around should not deter us.
"We can look to a number of practitioner-led initiatives which use information to support and to deliver care. We can look to best practice in other countries. We can also look to other sectors, where people use information and information technology to access, shape and tailor services.
"For example, the possibility of rapid price comparisons through the internet for basic utilities such as electricity has had a major impact on the experience of consumers. For some time now, people have been using the internet to explore a diagnosis after (or before) they visit their doctor."
Patients having control of their health records
One of the themes of Lansley's "revolution" is the idea that patients should be able to access their health information, as held by GPs, and correct any inaccuracies.
The information strategy paper says:
"Control of their records gives patients and service users a clearer understanding of their health needs, their treatments, their care and other options available to them and will help make shared decision-making a reality.
"Providing patients with greater control of their records is also symbolic of a new relationship between individuals and services.
"Patient control of records opens up exciting new possibilities for on-line health and care services, supporting patients and service users to directly access services and interact with them."
Quotes from Liberating the NHS - an Information Revolution:
"the key role of informatics as a profession - in ensuring that those who develop, maintain and use information systems are trained, supported, developed and valued in their organisations"
"... in relation to digital technologies, away from an approach where we expect every organisation to use the same system, to one where we connect and join up systems."
"our commitment to review central data collections in health and adult social care and to remove any that do not contribute to improving care and outcomes"
"the vital importance of capturing data accurately at the point of care in the patient or service user’s care record"
" ... patients and service users being able to keep a copy of their care record themselves, and share that copy as they see fit with others"
"GPs and other care professionals being encouraged to enable patients and service users to communicate with them and to access services online"
"how to ensure that confidentiality and privacy in relation to personal information remain critical priorities for those who hold patient and service user records"
"the Government’s commitment to promoting shared decision-making and information to support informed choices by patients, service users and carers"
"the critical role that technology and information will play in supporting self-care, at or close to home"
"information that can help people to make healthy choices, and act as the basis for taking more responsibility for their own health and well-being"
"the importance of professionally endorsed and universally applied standards for the recording of care"
"the need for high quality evidence - from clinical audit, staff feedback, research and other sources- to make shared decision-making a reality"
Director General for Informatics Christine Connelly said:
“Building from a base of accurate care records the Information Revolution will deliver more informed patients, more engaged professionals, more efficient organisations and, ultimately, improved outcomes.”
The Department of Health is also today publishing a summary of the responses - over 5,400 - to a consultation on enabling people to register with the GP practice of their choice.
Choice consultation - Department of Health website
Liberating the NHS: An Information Revolution - DH website