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NHS England to publish interoperability handbook

Guidance will enable information sharing about patients across different care settings, says head of enterprise architecture Inderjit Singh

NHS England will publish an interoperability handbook to help local NHS organisations to understand how to share data across the health economy.

The handbook, which will be published tomorrow (Thursday 3 September), will help define what NHS England means by interoperability and support local health economies to understand how to improve data sharing standards, and ultimately create integrated digital care records (IDCRs).

Speaking at the NHS Innovation Expo in Manchester, NHS England head of enterprise architecture Inderjit Singh said the guidance is about enabling standards that have open interfaces to be able to share information about a patient across different care settings.

“Complex care co-ordination will happen on a local level through integrated care records,” he said, adding that the handbook will explain how to get there through highlighting the strategy on a national level, and will set out options and standards local organisations should consider.

The handbook will also provide case studies where IDCRs are already supporting both existing and emerging models of care. According to Singh, the guidance is about giving organisations the tools to integrate care records themselves rather than forcing them to do it a certain way, but the NHS needs to be careful to avoid storing information in silos.

“Working on a local level, you have to be careful so you don’t end up with more information silos than we have today, so that’s as much about open APIs [application programming interfaces],” he said.

“There will be a common and open set of APIs that are exposed regardless of the vendor, so you have got to have common and open APIs from vendor to vendor to share information.”

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The government is also creating a national index where clinicians can locate the patients’ records.

"It’s about facilitating professionals to use the information," said Singh. "The last thing we want to do is create more portals and logins. If you have got the APIs in place for clinicians to access that, you can use the same for patients in the future.”

NHS England is already working with TechUK on supporting its interoperability charter, which was published earlier in 2015 and sets out five key principles around interoperability and open standards suppliers have to commit to. Some 60 organisations have already signed up to the charter.

“We are asking suppliers to sign up to and provide open interfaces, and be able to make these interfaces available without charge,” Singh said. 

NHS England will also publish guidance on how to create digital roadmaps, which NHS organisations and clinical commissioning groups will have to have in place by April 2016.

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