The return of the EPR

Browsing eHealth Insider this week, I was struck by a clear and seemingly obvious trend – the electronic patient record (EPR) is back in the headlines with a vengeance. Compare the past *16 stories this week to those published at the same time six months ago and there is a significant difference. More than half of the stories this week are directly related to significant EPR tender opportunities, contract awards and go-lives. These are topics that were non-existent for a period on the industry’s leading healthcare technology news channel in November 2013.

So where has this shift come from and is it likely to stick around?

One of the most obvious attributes to this trend is, of course, undoubtedly the launch of the two rounds of NHS Tech Fund as well as a broader vision for a paperless NHS. Though much of the funding awarded to date is too small to provide a multi-million pound, all singing all dancing EPR, it has undoubtedly encouraged NHS organisations to think and focus on IT and its benefits. In addition, the ‘Funds’ high media profile coverage across much of the national press and the provision of matched funding, have inevitably helped to highlight how components such as electronic document management and electronic prescribing can help to form the stepping stones to a wider EPR.

But is it just the advent of new money into the pot that is causing this stir? Probably not, in fact, it is much more likely to be down to a combination of factors that all appear to have come together at once.

One of the key elements, is that over the next two years we will see the winding down of the National Programme for IT’s (NPfIT) local service provider contracts across the country. For those trusts lucky enough to have received an NPfIT solution, particularly in the form of Lorenzo, Cerner Millennium or RiO, many already need to be looking at their exit options and how to continue their EPR journey.

London and ‘the South’ have already stepped this exit strategy up a gear, with many trusts grouping together under frameworks, conscious that their deadline to exit the programme is little more than a year away. Meanwhile there appears to be slightly less activity in the North, Midlands and East where they have another 20 months left. However, several trusts are clearly aware that with dozens of trusts needing to extend or replace their existing systems, the time to start planning their EPR strategy going forward, is already upon them. Meanwhile those who did not receive anything from the programme but have attracted central funding, are also moving forward with their procurements.

On top of all of this, we have a technological ambitious health secretary, who proactively raises awareness of the benefits of technology in healthcare, something we arguably have not had before.

Just last summer Jeremy Hunt told the Financial Times that over the next three years he expects “Britain to become the most interesting country in the world when it comes to health technology”. In March 2014, he told the Daily Telegraph that the NHS needs to follow banking and shopping and embrace a “technology revolution”. And just this week, he told Health Service Journal “The NHS can withstand the financial squeeze it faces during the next parliamentary term by adopting new technologies and making care safer”

All of this combined with a greater focus on the benefits that technology can bring both in terms of patient safety, clinical outcomes and a intense demand for increased efficiencies, means that the EPR, if only for a couple of years, is back and is likely to stay.

*As Thursday 29th of May 2014

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