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Andy Jones: Switched on to IT at long last

I believe one of the keys to improved health care is effective use of computers.

I believe one of the keys to improved health care is effective use of computers.

Traditionally, the NHS has never made good use of IT. But this need not remain the case.The Government is currently investing £6 billion in the NHS National Programme for IT, and this at the very least shows willing. Whatever the state of electronic booking or the national care record, I am optimistic about IT in the future.

I am sure Choose and Book will work one day. And I am sure Europe's biggest teaching hospital, in Leeds, will one day get connected.

One of the great values of computers is that they can compile and analyse data. Patterns emerge, requirements can be identified, and health professionals can act accordingly. Take referrals. Great insights were gained from the community matron programmes that started to target patients with chronic conditions who were being frequently and unnecessarily admitted to hospital.

Current admission figures suggest 40 per cent of patients are admitted for acute or severe chronic conditions. Such admissions are, therefore, inevitable. However, the remaining 60 per cent of admissions are due to predictable chronic conditions that could be averted if money was spent on co-ordinated community services.

This is the whole premise behind the new White Paper. And good data provided this information.

Analysing dataBig organisations are starting to pick up on the importance of collating information and analysing it.

It is no surprise to hear that United Healthcare has been working hard to develop a tool that will identify every patient in a practice to pinpoint those at greatest need and hence worthy of opportunistic interventions.

This data-driven world will see further tools such as Health Numerics. This brings together data from hospital activity, A&E, GP consultations, repeat medications, social care and public health. In addition, the King's Fund has been developing a toolkit for chronic condition management. All of this suggests the business and policy movers believe data will drive health improvements.

Having seen the trials, I am inclined to agree.Analytic tools will allow comparison of hospital, PCT, practice and GP activity. Will GPs be able to drive health care performance? Obviously I am biased, but I think we would do a pretty good job. It is worth remembering that some specialties have a threefold GP referral rate difference across a PCT.

I believe computers are valuable and, when used effectively, can make a huge difference to health care. Many GPs and other health professionals criticise them and doubt their efficacy, but I am not one of them.Computers are here to stay. And a good thing too.

Dr Andy Jones is a GP in Stamford, Lincolnshire

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