Keeping patient records

In an interconnected world, the transfer and sharing of information has never been easier. It’s an easy statement to make but is it really true? After all Stephen Hawking may have said that “we are all connected by the internet, like neurons in a giant brain” but sometimes it seems as though those connections are not as seamless as we would like to think.

That certainly seems to be the case if a major study into medical record-keeping in the NHS is anything to go by. The study by the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) revealed that at least twenty-one different health information systems were being used across the NHS. As a result, the study estimates that in the year ending April 2018 eleven million patient treatments were hampered by hospitals being unable to fully access patient information.

Admittedly some of those instances may have been due to 23% of trusts still relying on paper records. Nevertheless, without robust information sharing protocols across the twenty-one different health systems, it is inevitable that system mismatch will prevent records from being shared as required. This may particularly be the case in the 10% of trusts which were identified as operating multiple platforms within the same hospital.

Commenting on the survey, one of its authors, Dr Leigh Warren, acknowledged that “Patients expect their health records to be shared seamlessly between hospitals and healthcare settings that they move between.” He went on to highlight the danger of error and accident, some of which may threaten patients lives, due to the right information not being provided to hospitals and GPs at the right time.

The study serves to highlight the gains in patient treatments which can arise as a result of the sharing of patient information. With other benefits arising from the electronic storing of records, the fact that such a high percentage of trusts have succeeded in digitising patient information can only be a positive step in the long run. These benefits include a potential saving in clinical time in both filing and retrieving records.

Whether working in the NHS or in other areas of health practice one of the common challenges is to make effective use of a key resource; namely time. The more time that can be spent on patient treatment, the better the outcome. Not only does good time management enable more patients to be seen, it also helps to ensure that necessary treatment is started as soon as possible.

For those working within a single health practice the electronic filing and retrieval of patient records saves manual filing time. Not only that, with patient records maintained in the one place, it becomes easier to cross-check treatment regimes and to view notes from other practitioners or externally-generated information such as x-rays or test results which have been uploaded to the system.  Other features such as body chart mapping can also help to highlight identified treatment areas; a particular benefit in those health practices offering multiple treatments such as physiotherapy and podiatry.

Whether shared with other health practices or retained in house, the electronic filing of patient records can only lead to benefits for patients and practitioners. And it is anticipated that record sharing will only improve over time. As Dr Warren said “This is a complex issue, but our work shows how existing data can be used to develop a road map towards better coordination and safer care.”