GPs: can you communicate please?
Yesterday I had the dubious pleasure of having to visit my GP for a prescription. After the usual brief discussion he then was about to give me my prescription when I pointed out that he was prescribing a medication to which I had previously had an adverse reaction. I was obviously a bit perturbed that I was the one telling him this and that he had not spotted it on my medical record. I was then even more perturbed when he duly informed me that there was no mention on my record that I had ever taken the said medication!
The reason for this disturbing mishap however is very clear. My current London GP has not communicated with my ex-GP in Suffolk (where my parents live and who I still use when in Suffolk). I have moved around a considerable amount – including abroad – but in the UK have only ever had two GPs – the London one and the Suffolk one. I am fortunate to have the same London GP now as I did many years ago when I first lived in London but I never actually checked whether they still had my old records (but presumed they did).
I also never checked that when I registered with them and gave them my Suffolk GPs address that they would get copies of my medical records from the Suffolk GP. I thought this would be an obvious thing to do to ensure that they had a full set of records and had no major information missing (such as adverse reactions and allergies). It now appears my assumption was wrong.
Even five years ago I would not have made this presumption but given the ease of transferring digital information securely I thought that this communication would be a simple, standard thing to do for a new patient. Given that patients generally do not yet carry their own electronic medical records around with them the onus is still on the GP to own an up-to-date medical record for the patient.
Taking this thinking further though it struck me that when I had the unlucky misfortune of having to visit A&E a while back that they also had minimal information about me and I had to inform them of my medical allergies. What if I had been unconscious and/or unable to communicate? I presume at some stage they would have contacted my London GP to ascertain my allergies but given the above situation that would not have been 100% successful. My parents may also have forgotten my obscure allergy so may not have been much help.
I am fortunate to live in a country with essentially a single healthcare provider and payor – the NHS. Is it really so inconceivable that a patient has access to their medical records throughout the system – whether it be with a London GP, an A&E department or a specialist in a different part of the country? Granted I am aware this is a mammoth ask and a huge task but it also makes me question the vast sums of money that has been ploughed into IT in the NHS. Where exactly did all this money go?
Actually I know there is quite a lot of evidence of where it went – some of it has been used successfully and some has been plain wasted. But given the rapid changes in technology and the ever decreasing costs as well as the ease of communicating cheaply surely there could be some sort of a basic system in place by now? How hard could it be to have a basic patient register with basic medical information such as any chronic diseases, allergies etc? And if patients are worried then they can opt out of the system – but for patients like me it would be great.
I appreciate that a massive organisation like the NHS, with all its fiefdoms and political issues will take time to change and implement new systems. However it strikes me that at a time when money is a huge concern there should be more focus at looking at new technology to reduce costs, including medical errors (such as administering a medication to which someone is allergic) and streamlining services. In the meantime I will make sure that next time I am in Suffolk I see if the GP can give me a copy of my medical record to hand deliver to my London GP.