An NHS think tank has warned the health service that it cannot remain in the "information dark ages", and must improve information governance in order to improve patient care.
The NHS Future Forum spoke to 12,000 patients and NHS employees in order to assess the current performance of the health service, in order to advise the government on healthcare strategy.
The investigation found that use of information is one of the NHS’ principal shortcomings. "In age of connectivity where people access information at the click of a button, the NHS cannot remain in the information dark ages," wrote forum chair Professor Steve Field, in a letter to health secretary Andrew Lansley.
"We should regard poor information as poor quality care," Field added.
A detailed report focusing on the NHS’ use of information drew three conclusions.
Firstly, it found that improved information use and communication would improve healthcare. The report calls for greater interoperability of healthcare systems.
"There should be a clear contractual requirement that all organisations delivering care in the NHS or in adult and child social care have systems that allow full electronic data sharing against set standards," it advised.
The second conclusion was that the barriers to improved information use are more cultural than technological. "What is needed more than anything is a change of mindset in the NHS, so that it is taken for granted that the provision of information to patients and service users is an integral part of the therapeutic process," the report found.
Thirdly, it found that the are good information governance practices in use in the NHS "but this remains patchy". The report calls on the NHS to make 2022 "the year that the information revolution really starts to support better health outcomes".
Specific recommendations of the report include clarifying the business case for the proposal to allow patients to access their GP records by the next election. "We support this commitment as a first step, but the information strategy must now make clear how this will be achieved, recognising that there is both a financial and time burden to GP practices, and by providing meaningful help and support to them."
It also advised that "switching on patient access alone is not enough and potentially detrimental if appropriate support structures are not in place for patients so that they understand and know how to use the information."
The report gave examples of how charities can help patients make sense of the data provided by the NHS. It mentioned cancer care charity Macmillan, which has partnered with NHS Choices to develop ‘information prescriptions’ for patients. These assess the information the patient should be given depending on the stage of their illness.
Information Age spoke to Macmillan’s head of information Steven Wibberley about information prescriptions last year.