Sharing patient information in the NHS has proved highly controversial.  We posted about this subject here a while back.  Now there’s a new report from UCL researchers, suggesting that two key recent NHS IT programmes for handling patient information have so far delivered only modest benefits.   A short summary appears here, with links to the executive summary and the full report.  A research paper based on the findings has been published in the BMJ.

The three year UCL project looked at the Summary Care Record (SCR) and at Healthspace, both introduced as part of the NHS National Programme for IT. 

The SCR is an electronic summary of key health data, taken from GP records and other sources, and available to a range of NHS staff.   According to the UCL report, very few people had chosen to opt out; less than 1% of those who had been sent the relevant information.  But SCRs were not yet widely used; even where available, they were only accessed in 21% of clinical encounters.  So far there was little evidence that SCRs improved patient safety or reduced consultation length or hospital admissions.

HealthSpace is a tool that allows patients to update their own health information, plan healthcare appointments, and contact their GP via a secure internet connection.  So far, take up has been very low.  According to the UCL study only one person in 200 who was invited to open a basic account did so, and only one in 1000 opened an advanced account.

The report’s lead author, Professor Greenhalgh, is quoted as saying:  “This reseach shows that the significant benefits anticipated for these programmes have, by and large, yet to be realised – and that they may be acheived only at high cost and enormous effort … It serves to demonstrate the wider dilemma of national databases:  that scaling things up doesn’t necessarily make them more efficient or effective.”