A robust and joined-up IT system across the NHS needs to be prioritised before a "technological revolution" in patient care can truly happen, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has said in its new “tech manifesto” launched today.
The College estimates that up to 80% of GP practices could soon be using outdated IT systems unsuitable for the demands of future care - with some practices still reliant on fax machines that health secretary Matt Hancock wants to outlaw. The UK health system currently lags behind European neighbours, such as Finland and Estonia, that have already implemented a shared electronic patient record.
The manifesto recognises the exciting potential of genomics, artificial intelligence, digital medicine and robotics to potentially revolutionise patient care and improve patient safety.
But the College says that widespread improvement will only be possible once robust, secure IT systems are in place for all GP practices and all areas of the NHS have access to computer networks which seamlessly link up the patient journey.
The College will use the launch of the manifesto - attended by Matt Hancock at its headquarters in London - to call on him to ensure all practices are equipped with systems and facilities that are fit for the future.
The manifesto wants all GP practices to have:
- modern, digitally-enabled premises with fully interoperable IT systems
- access to secure high-speed broadband facilities; and
- access to a single shared electronic patient record which documents patient interactions throughout the NHS.
The manifesto explores how innovation can benefit GPs and patients by helping to reduce the escalating workload in primary care, and demonstrates how GPs are ready to embrace the changes needed to be at the forefront of innovation.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said GPs have always embraced new technology: "General practice was the first NHS sector to have electronic prescribing and electronic patient records so we know how beneficial new technology can be and we recognise its huge potential to help our patients.
"GPs want the latest, cutting-edge tech at our disposal but we need the basics to work first. That means everything from making sure that our computers don't crash while issuing a prescription, to making sure our systems talk to those in all hospitals so that we can improve the care and experience that our patients receive throughout the NHS.
"We want the NHS to be a world leader in technology, and we are ready for a new wave of exciting opportunities which have the potential to revolutionise patient care, but a lot of work is needed before that can happen, and we need to ensure sure that these opportunities are embraced safely and sustainably with GPs at the centre of changes."
Dr Farah Jameel, British Medical Association (BMA) GP committee executive team IT lead, said that ensuring IT systems and infrastructure are fit for purpose is fundamental for improving patient care and increasing productivity, and advances in technology have the potential to transform the lives of both healthcare staff and patients.
“As the RCGP points out, we must walk before we can run, and getting the basics right must be the priority ahead of any promised ‘digital revolution’. The College’s manifesto echoes what the BMA has been saying for some years about IT in general practice, and across the health service."
A recent survey of BMA members found that a quarter felt that IT systems at their place of work are not fit for purpose, with over half reporting that the current IT infrastructure significantly increases their day-to-day workload.
“It is crucial therefore that the starting point is to address the serious deficiencies in the current system, which result in additional workload and stress, and can put patient safety at risk," Dr Jameel added.
“To this end, the BMA wrote to the health secretary earlier this month outlining our own recommendations for IT in the NHS. Basic hardware must be upgraded to meet a national standards, while patient experience and staff education and training must all be considered as key factors for achieving digital transformation."