U.K. lacks support for health IT modernization

High costs, lack of personal consultation and a dearth of information overall is eroding support among doctors in the United Kingdom for the country’s health information technology modernization program -- the largest civilian program in the world, according to a recent survey.

The National Programme for IT (NPfIT), which is being carried out by the U.K. Department of Health's National Health Service Connecting for Health agency, is looking to upgrade the services provided through the NHS by electronically connecting 30,000 general practitioners in the country to about 300 NHS hospitals.

The survey, conducted in December 2005 and January by Medix, a research company that offers free information to doctors, found that physicians are increasingly critical of the way the program is being implemented yet generally believe it could deliver better clinical care for patients.

It's the sixth survey Medix has conducted on the subject since February 2003.

Nearly 70 percent of the survey's respondents said they would have insufficient funds to properly implement NPfIT, while only 6 percent said they would. Also, just 5 percent said they believe they have had adequate personal consultation with NHS Connecting for Health about the program, only a marginal improvement on the 2 percent figure registered in 2003.

Although the level of awareness about NPfIT from all sources is improving, the survey found about 56 percent of doctors still have little or no information, and 6 percent said they have never heard of it.

Overall support for NPfIT has fallen fairly dramatically, the Medix survey found, with just 30 percent of general practitioners now viewing the program an important priority for the NHS, versus two-thirds of respondents three years ago. Of all the doctors surveyed, 68 percent viewed the rate of progress of the NPfIT as poor or unacceptable.

The reasons for the decline in support for the program are unclear, the Medix authors said in their comments in the survey results, but a possibility has to be "the continuing lack of personal consultation and engagements despite two years of assurances by the NHS that inadequate consultation was being remedied."

"(After) three years of delay, it will now take extraordinary efforts to achieve (the program's success) and overcome the distrust and cynicism that seems to have replaced early enthusiasm in the minds of many doctors," they said.

In a response, NHS Connecting for Health said it has been strengthening links with professional bodies representing clinicians as well as speaking about the NPfIT at conferences and meetings with doctors and buildings networks.

Its own polls showed NHS employees preferred to work at the local level, so NHS Connecting for Health said it has been providing outreach via local Strategic Health Authorities.

Those polls also show general support for the program, with about half of NHS staff supporting the program and a quarter being neutral.

"It is well-known that there is usually a dip in confident in IT change programs as early implementation gets under way," according to the agency. "(This) is the phase that NHS Connecting for Health is in."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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