This site is intended for health professionals only

We must embrace IT for the sake of patient safety

Medicine and IT have a lot in common. Both are exceedingly powerful tools for bettering mankind, but only when in the correct hands and administered responsibly.

Just as antibiotics sitting in a bottle do not themselves cure infection, IT does not, on its own, make consultations safer faster or more informed. New computer products, like new drugs, need to be understood, exploited and provided with safeguards.

But their power to retrieve, send and coordinate information speedily is well recognised by the GPs questioned in our survey. More than 70% of respondents considered IT a key enabler for delivering patient care, with 42% reporting their own services are significantly impaired when their systems go down.

Good information governance doesn't mean never releasing information about patients, but knowing how much, to whom and with what safeguards. Dr Emyr Wyn Jones's article describes the challenges we face daily when asked for information about our patients – which, according to our survey, typically happens 6.5 times a week.

The GP2GP team has enabled safe transfer of our entire electronic records from one system to another, keeping the underlying code intact. This has been an incredible technology success story, but there is still much to do to. As our survey showed, 44% said the quality of records sent through GP2GP was not good enough 'to ensure seamless delivery of high-quality care.'

Prof Greenhalgh's evaluation of Summary Care Record rightly points out the complexities of implementation – and those seeking numerical benefits will always be disappointed given how difficult it is to quantify the subtleties of consultations.

We GPs are expert at helping decipher information to help our patients, but we need resources to support us. Some 63% of GPs in our survey thought access to significant medical history, medication and allergies were essential to provide safe and effective out-of-hours care for patients, with a further 23% believing the entire GP record was necessary.

The Summary Care Record is about to be reviewed – as is necessary to ensure the profession and patients understand what it is and its purpose — but it is providing useful information when there is none other available. Dr Simon Collins passionately makes that case in his article on how the Summary Care Record is saving lives..

As GPs are increasingly scrutinised over the quality of out-of-hours care, we need to exploit the IT tools that have been built to improve safety while observing information governance standards to protect the confidentiality of information.

Dr Gillian Braunold is a GP in Kilburn and clinical director of the Summary Care Record

Click here to read the rest of our special issue on IT and information governance. Guest editor