Getting it right: The rise of digital health

Transforming the way people’s information is shared between health and social care services is at the heart of the long-term plans for the NHS and social care across all four nations of the UK. Digital health and care records are the essential building blocks for a fully integrated health and care system, and the Professional Record Standards Body (PRSB) has a vital role to play in bringing this transformation about.

The PRSB is working closely with health and care professionals and patients to develop clinical standards for people’s care records. Once implemented, these standards will allow health and care professionals to share and access information digitally between different services. As part of our work, we have delivered a series of standards to support transfers of care, which will make sure that people in different services have access to the information they need at the right time. Our e-discharge summary standard is already being implemented across the UK, leading to improvements in care.

While sharing information at handover is vital to continuity of care, having access to a shared care record that provides a history of an individual’s interactions with services is the foundation stone of all care. Last year, we created such a standard, which is being piloted by NHS England’s local health and care records programme. Called the core information standard, it was developed with the help of more than 1,500 people. The standard includes a wide range of information from different services, including the GP, hospitals, social care and mental health services among others. It will incorporate an ‘about me’ section, which outlines what people want professionals to know about their care, as well as other crucial information, such as allergies, medications and alerts. Once implemented, it will mean that everyone involved in a person’s care, including the patient, carer and guardian, will have access to relevant data. As a result, people won’t have to repeat their history and services can deliver tailored, personalised care. This in turn will lead people to feel more empowered to get involved with their own health and manage certain aspects of it themselves- especially if they are able to access records in future. 

We’ve produced other standards to improve joined-up care in a wide range of areas, including maternity, child health and pharmacy among others. Our pharmacy standard, which was published last year, is already being used in Leeds, UK. Over the winter, pharmacies in the area have been using the template to share information about flu vaccines with patients’ GPs. It’s been saving time for GPs, and ensuring that they have up to date information about which patients have had their vaccine and which patients still need to be contacted.

Improving delivery of care, the quality of information available and research

In addition to standards we are producing guidance that will support safer care. For example, last year we published guidance that defines how medication dose and timing are communicated between different systems. There are 237 million medication errors every year. This new guidance will make it easier for patients and clinicians in different care settings to obtain, use and import information about a person’s medications, helping them to provide the right care and reduce errors.

Standards have been developed to improve the delivery of direct care, but they are also fundamental to supporting research, by improving the quality of information available. Meanwhile good information can support new tools for accessible and higher quality care. These include clinical decision support to improve diagnosis and management of conditions, artificial intelligence to supports apps and other digital health and care technologies and virtual consultations.

Whether it’s standards or guidance, we need the help and support of all health and care workers to successfully put these into action. We’re already starting to see the benefits but we need to take it further. For information to be shared between different systems, we need to encourage cultural change in different organisations. By working together we can make small changes to the way we communicate information, which will lead to long-term gains, and better health and care services.

If you’re interested in getting involved with our work on better data sharing, please contact info@theprsb.org.