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Better IT system integration could cut avoidable GP appointments

Common IT systems that talk to each other and better communication between general practitioners and hospitals are key to reducing unnecessary appointments, a report has found

Integrated systems and better use of technology could reduce unnecessary GP appointments, according to an NHS Alliance report.

The report, which was put together jointly with the Primary Care Foundation, calls for better collaboration between GPs and hospitals, including the way they receive information. Practice managers surveyed said they would like clearer summaries and simple letters from hospitals, as well as “electronic communication” and “IT systems that talk to each other”.

“The ability to implement common systems has been complicated by the NHS’s poor record on developing integrated information systems, with policy veering from centralist systems to local diversity. Neither have served general practice well,” the report said.

“Much of the duplication and confusion – and the inability of clinicians across different parts of the healthcare system to talk to each other and share important patient information – stem from this failing,” it said.

One practice manager said hospital systems need to be compatible with GP IT systems.

NHS England has set out an ambitious plan for the NHS to be digital at the point of care by 2020. This includes seamless electronic transfer of information between primary and secondary care. The project is being led by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which have to develop “roadmaps” on how they plan to undertake the work in their own health economy.

Speaking at a workshop for CCGs in London on 5 October 2015, Beverley Bryant, NHS England’s director of digital technology, said there’s no point in buying software if it doesn’t allow you to transfer information across the health and social care system.

“It really is time we started to move off paper,” she said.

Introducing NHS-approved healthcare apps

The government has also begun a pilot project for a new endorsement model for NHS-approved apps, which can be used by clinicians and patients. Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s director of patients and information, has previously said he envisions doctors being able to “prescribe apps” to patients.  

The NHS Alliance report found that patients’ use of health-related apps is “inevitable”, but those surveyed said they “currently have very little interaction with patients using apps”.  

Although the report found people are mostly positive towards adopting technologies, it also highlighted that there are barriers.

“Some people will have neither the skills nor the inclination, others may not have the mental or physical capacity to do so, while others still may not be able to afford it,” the report said.

“General practice needs to maintain traditional care at the same time as moving forward using new technologies.” ........................................

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