The Scottish NHS has taken a major step towards the use of lifelong electronic patient records.
The Scottish Executive Health Department has awarded a contract worth £1.8m in the first year to the Sema Group to integrate legacy IT systems across the country.
The plan is to bring together disparate information from hospital management and clinical systems to a central information repository at each of the country's health trusts - an intermediate step on the road towards a single national patient record linked to a unique identifying number.
The creation of a single record for each patient is a central goal of NHS information management and technology strategies in both Scotland and England as it would speed up the exchange of clinical information and drastically reduce the level of paper-based communication.
Sema has obtained a licence to use Neon eBIZ 2000 integration software at any Scottish NHS site and, under the integration contract, any interface developed to link systems at one trust can be used by any other NHS facility in Scotland.
Neon's XML-based software has already been used in award-winning implementations at the Raigmore hospital in Scotland and Kettering Hospital, Northamptonshire.
Records in the information repositories at each Scottish health trust will be available to authorised clinical staff using Internet browser technology on the firewall-protected NHSnet and on the trusts' own private networks. The repositories are likely to consist of SQL databases, stored securely at trusts or at NHS Scotland's national datacentre.
James McVicar, account director at Sema, said more work was still needed before the creation of national electronic patient records. Clinical decisions were necessary on the information required in an electronic patient record. But the Scottish NHS had an advantage over its counterpart in England and Wales, as it already had unique patient identification numbers held in a community health index.
Neon business development director Paul Roscoe said rapid deployment of the software would begin this quarter. This would tap latent demand that had built up among hospitals during the year the Scottish Executive had been evaluating national procurement options.