One of the NHS technology community’s leading experts is building a new system to integrate the health service’s myriad patient record systems, and he plans to give it to the NHS for free.
The highly ambitious project is in its early stages but NHS IT experts believe it has the potential to be one of the single biggest developments in the field this decade.
It is being led by David Stables, a founder of the GP records system giant EMIS, who retired in 2013. The highly regarded industry figure is funding the Endeavour Health Charitable Trust – established to build the system as well as other projects – with an endowment worth several million pounds (see box, below).
Numerous projects to integrate different patient record systems are ongoing across England, using technologies from various commercial suppliers. These include portal systems, health information exchanges, and other integration systems.
The appeal of Dr Stables’ project to senior figures in the sector, contacted for comment by HSJ, is that it would allow the NHS, rather than a private sector company, to control the means by which records are shared, reducing the risk of commercial disagreements between private sector vendors becoming a barrier to record sharing.
There is also the issue that some portal technologies only allow patient records to be viewed by different care providers, rather than data actually flowing across organisational boundaries. Dr Stables aims to build a system that goes beyond this and allows patient data to be transferred between organisations in a way that is not possible using view only portals.
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Senior figures cite the inability to share patient records as one of the biggest barriers to developing integrated care, and see the project as a potentially game changer to help address this.
Shane Tickell, chief executive of IMS Maxims, a company that has produced an open source version of its electronic patient records system, said: “This is probably the single biggest development [in NHS IT] in the last five, six, perhaps 10 years, and could really get things moving.
“I am thrilled that someone of David’s ilk has made this move. If anyone can get this off the ground… it’s David.”
Phil Koczan, chief clinical information officer of UCLPartners, seconded Mr Tickell’s assessment of the project’s potential significance.
He told HSJ: “The biggest challenge we face is sharing data between different care settings and providers so this is a very interesting potential solution. The ability to make it supplier agnostic and open source adds an extra dimension.”
When contacted by HSJ, Dr Stables cautioned that there needed to be a resolution to certain problems with NHS data sharing protocols for his proposed system to work.
He added: “My main aim is to help enable every citizen in the UK to have access to a personalised health and care management and planning system.
“Connectivity and integration of records between current and future care management systems would also be a huge benefit for clinicians and the rest of the health service.
“The technology we’re developing is not going to be the only way to achieve integration, but we are building the technology with scale in mind, joining up 60 million records, and the technology will be free to use.”
While the yet to be named system would be open source and free for NHS organisations to use and modify, there would be running costs that will not covered by the charity.
Dr Stables said it was not yet clear who would run the system but he did not envisage Endeavour running it. He said no decisions had been taken, but if the idea gained traction it could be handed to the NHS to run, perhaps by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Endeavour Health Charitable Trust
Endeavour Health Charitable Trust was established by David Stables in April last year. Its objective is “improving healthcare by enabling the design of, and researching the effectiveness of, new forms of healthcare IT with emphasis on patients as users of IT”. The charity was established with a several million pound endowment from Dr Stables and this has been its only funding source to date.
He has not ruled out other funders in the future. The exact amount of money donated by Dr Stables and the value of its investment portfolio will not be made public until publication of its end of year report.
The former GP generated his own wealth largely from being a significant shareholder of EMIS, which floated on the London Stock Exchange in February 2010.