Consumerisation healthcare

Electronic prescription software could help save 20,000 lives a year across England and Wales if adopted by all NHS trusts, according to NHS IT director Stephen Chilton.

The software digitises the prescriptions process, making it more efficient for patients and healthcare workers and helping to ensure clinicians don't give patients the wrong medicine.

The finding was part of a peer review of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust's prescribing information and communications system (PICS), which it developed in-house 10 years ago.

The system has a rules engine to check doctors are not giving medication to a patient they are allergic to or is incompatible with their other medicine. It also has bedside observation functions to check vital signs, Chilton said.

PICS has not only helped the hospital to improve patients' outcomes but it's also reduced average length of stay, something the hospital badly needs as the number of patients has almost doubled from 500,000 to 900,000 in five years, he said.

The software has been such a success in Birmingham it has now been commercialised by UK-based technology group Serverlec and can be bought by other trusts, with profits going back to Birmingham.

Despite compelling evidence that e-prescribing software saves lives, it is commissioned in just 12% of hospitals, NHS patients and information director Tim Kelsey said at an EMC event last September.

He said the lack of e-prescription adoption in the NHS was "an appalling fact of which we should be ashamed".

Chilton admitted: "It is disappointing other trusts haven't done it too."

Another core system at the trust, also developed in-house, is a clinical portal, which provides users with a single view of patients, including correspondence with GPs, laboratory reports, medication and previous appointments, according to Chilton. The system went live in 2012.

Patients can also gain access to the portal online. The website, which Chilton described as the "Facebook of the patient world", allows them to view their results, appointments and other useful information to help them manage their care.

These systems have helped the hospital to cope with a near-doubling of patients and make huge savings without having to make "swathes of the workforce redundant", Chilton said.

"They've freed up our capacity to better help patients and made our IT spend much more efficient," he added.

"Six years ago, we were probably spending in the region of 65-70% of our money keeping the lights on. I felt that wasn't the best place to be. I'd say now it's more like 30%," he said.