Lyn Whitfield has seen EHRs become a recurring theme

Published: 21/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5797 Page 1

Putting e-novation together can be an interesting exercise.

When this edition was commissioned, the package of features looked very diverse.Reporters were asked to investigate everything from using technology to head off global epidemics to what a handful of English patients thought about their records.

Yet once the pieces came in, a common theme emerged: the importance of electronic records.Good records linked to good tracking mechanisms might help tackle tropical diseases - the subject of a report from chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson.Electronic patient records could combat drug errors - the subject of a report from the National Audit Office.

This raises the issue of whether government targets for EPRs/EHRs will be met - and whether more centralisation would mean faster progress.Some hospitals are inching towards the all-important 'EPR level 3'.But their progress just shows how much there is still to do. It also raises issues about patient confidentiality and consultant behaviour.

Tackling these could be at least as difficult as sorting out the technical issues: and the debate will be complicated by the government's revived enthusiasm for 'entitlement cards'(which will require massive data-sharing across departments).

Meanwhile, debate rages about whether more centralisation would drive the EPR roll-out process faster.Unsurprisingly, the larger computer companies argue that putting them in charge of NHS IT policy is the way forward.Many existing suppliers and fans of decentralisation argue this would deliver poor local solutions at best and be disastrous at worst.Yet it is for them to prove the case by delivering electronic records - a basic building block of reform.Delay will no longer do. l