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A faulty production line

GPs warned over data migration when switching their computers

By Ian Cameron

GPs are putting themselves at risk of legal action when they change or upgrade their practice computer systems because vital patient information is usually lost, the BMA has warned.

It wants GPs to complete a questionnaire with their experience of switching systems in an effort to tackle the problem.

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC's IT sub-committee, said it had taken the step now because many practices are set to upgrade their system for the new GP contract.

More GPs may also be forced to change their system by primary care organisations, which now have responsibility for funding practice IT. The BMA plans to develop a grid so practices can check their existing IT system against their intended upgrade and work out the likelihood of data loss.

Dr Cundy said some GPs may be forced into deals that placed them at greater risk of losing data. 'I think there is probably data loss in every single change of supplier. This is the first attempt to get a handle on this, but the medico-

legal implications are horrific,' he said. 'If you are paperless the IT system is the only record you've got.'

He added loss of the audit trail detailing when and by whom changes were made to records was equally important.

'If you make an entry and that's transferred to another system, if the fact that it was made by you is lost you've lost the audit trail. In 20 years' time you will not be able to prove beyond doubt what you did or did not do.' Dr Cundy said GPs must retain the right to choose their supplier.

Medical defence bodies backed the move. Dr Karen Dalby, clinical risk manager at the Medical Defence Union, said data loss affects patient care and continuity of care.

'Even if you haven't lost patient data, if you lose the audit trail it could be difficult to authenticate the records if you have subsequent claims,' she said.

Dr Manpreet Pujara, chair of the EMIS national users group and a GP in Rochester, Kent, warned anecdotal evidence would be 'subjective' and would not show the information GPs got from suppliers.

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