A team of researchers at Imperial College, London, has discovered that hospitals across England are using 21 separate electronic systems to record patient health care and that this is risking patient safety.

Researchers at Imperial College's Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) found that, of 121 million patient interactions, there were 11 million where information from a previous visit was inaccessible.

The electronic medical records (EMRs) system was launched in 2002 with the aim of allowing clinicians easy access to all the information on a patient. However, it has experienced various delays and operational problems.

The study, published in the journal "BMJ Open", looked at data from 152 acute hospital trusts in England, focusing on the use of EMRs on the ward. Half of trusts using EMRs were using one of three systems - researchers said at least these three should be able to share information - and 10% were using multiple systems within the same hospital. Around a quarter were still using paper records.

The researchers said that the numerous different e-health systems meant that hospitals and GPs often didn't have the right information about the right patient in the right place at the right time, which could lead to errors and accidents "that can threaten patients' lives".

Dr Leigh Warren, who worked on the research, said: "Patients expect their health records to be shared seamlessly between hospitals and healthcare settings that they move between. They cannot understand why, in the NHS, this is not the case."

IGHI Lead Author and Co-director Lord Ara Darzi commented: "It is vital that policy-makers act with urgency to unify fragmented systems and promote better data-sharing in areas where it is needed most - or risk the safety of patients."

A spokesperson for NHSX, which looks after digital services in the NHS, responded to the findings: "NHSX is setting standards, so hospital and general practitioner IT systems talk to each other and quickly share information, like X-ray results, to improve patient care."

Last reviewed 10 December 2019