The UK National Health Service revisits general IT strategy

London 02 January 1998 Current developments in Information Technology offer the possibility to store medical information on electronic patient records (EPR) and smartcards. The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom however hesitates to adopt these new solutions because several complicated issues need to be dealt with first. The NHS embarks on a radically new IT strategy in which the balance between accurate information on the state of people's health and data confidentiality gets primordial attention.

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Current developments in Information Technology offer the possibility to store medical information on electronic patient records (EPR) and smartcards. The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom however hesitates to adopt these new solutions because several complicated issues need to be dealt with first. The NHS embarks on a radically new IT strategy in which the balance between accurate information on the state of people's health and data confidentiality gets primordial attention.

The last government reforms of the National Health Service date from six years back. Since that time, the majority of Information Technology funding has been spent on systems for billing and contracting to support the internal market, according to the Computing magazine. Today, less than 3% of the hospital consultants have access to computers while nearly all general practitioners have a computer on their desk.

In the mean time, the general saving policy has seriously reduced the hospital investments, which are on top of this, being complicated by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Consequently, there is little pecuniary room left to embrace revolutionary technologies such as electronic patient records.

Apart from these financial restrictions, the NHS is struggling with the problem of total absence of standards allowing different computer systems to exchange patient information. Another capital issue concerns the solid guarantee that has to be offered with regard to data protection, security and confidentiality. Precisely this threefold challenge imposes the need for a complete reorganisation of the IT strategy upon the National Health Service of the United Kingdom.


Leslie Versweyveld

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