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GPs ‘swamped’ by 400 documents a week from hospitals

GP practices are being ‘swamped’ with paperwork as hospitals bombard them with almost 400 clinical documents a week, a new survey reveals.

A poll of 673 GPs and practice managers conducted by Healthcare Gateway Ltd, a joint venture by INPS and EMIS, found that practices received an average of 370 clinical documents per week, with a third being sent in excess of 500 per week. On average, practices said they received clinical documents from six hospitals. 

In the survey, practices reported that almost 85% of clinical records they received were paper copies, costing staff an estimated 18 hours each week to scan, code and input data onto GP systems. The survey also raised data protection fears, with one in six (16.5%) practices reporting that clinical documents were ‘lost in the post’ each week. Opinion was split among GPs when asked whether staff processing clinical documents was a good use of time or not.

GP software companies said the survey showed an ‘overwhelming demand’ for electronic document systems among GP practices. However, the findings came as an LMC warned that botched attempts by hospitals to switch to IT-based systems could actually drive up GP workloads.

Peter Anderson, commercial director of Healthcare Gateway, said: ‘It is clear that the vast majority of busy GP surgeries are still being swamped by paper documents that need to be manually processed. The technology already exists to quickly and securely share vital clinical information between secondary care clinicians and GPs using different IT systems.’

Dr William Lumb, a GP in Cumbria and clinical informatics for NHS Cumbria, said:‘Paper documents are a major irritant for GPs and practice staff.’

‘We are operating 19th century communications in the 21st century. I am desperate to introduce a completely electronic document system.’

But GPs in parts of England reported experiencing problems with hospitals moving to IT-based systems for clinical test results. Berks, Bucks and Oxon LMCs said an Oxford hospital’s decision to transfer to an electronic system for test results had actually increased GP workload as the system had failed to return results properly.

Dr Paul Roblin, Secretary of Berks, Bucks and Oxon LMCs, said: ‘The John Radcliffe hospital shifted to an imperfect electronic system which didn’t duplicate what the paper system did. In particular, anyone who initiated a hospital test didn’t get the results back. GPs ended up being asked to chase up the results of tests and it landed more work on their desks. Electronic systems are only as good as their implementation.’

James Price, Clinical Director Emergency Medicine at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, said:‘We have modified our electronic system  to ensure that primary care teams are not requested to chase the results of tests requested in hospital.’