The benefits of the Summary Care Record (SCR) scheme, introduced as part of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), appear more modest than anticipated, according to a study published on bmj.com today.
The findings are based on an independent evaluation by researchers at University College London and come as the new coalition government announces a review of the scheme.
The Summary Care Record is an electronic summary of patient medical records accessible over a secure internet connection by authorised NHS staff. In 2008, the English government began to roll out the scheme nationally with the aim of improving the quality, safety and efficiency of care, especially in emergency situations.
But the scheme has proved controversial with a range of alleged benefits and drawbacks, from better clinical care and fewer medical errors to high costs and threats to confidentiality.
Researchers set out to evaluate the scheme over a three-year period (2007-2010). They analysed data across three sites, including over 400,000 encounters in participating primary care out-of-hours and walk-in-centres and 140 interviews with policymakers, managers, clinicians and software suppliers involved in the scheme.
By early 2010, 1.5 million SCRs had been created, but the researchers found that creating SCRs and supporting their adoption and use was a complex, technically challenging and labour-intensive process which occurred much more slowly than originally planned.
In participating primary care out-of-hours and walk-in centres, they show that an SCR was accessed in 4% of all encounters and in 21% when an SCR was available. These figures were rising in some but not all sites.