An online toolkit to help GPs through the appraisals process was demonstrated at the EMIS National User Group conference at Warwick University.

The Appraisals Toolkit at, developed at the Sowerby Centre for Health Informatics in Newcastle (SCHIN), was presented by GP education lead, Dr Paul Robinson, who explained that the aim was to provide a single portal for both appraisers and appraisees.

The appraisals process, in which GPs identify areas in which they need to develop their knowledge and practice, is approached from an educational view and is self-directed, though Dr Robinson said this did not mean “just doing things that are nice for you.”

“There is no point in learning that does not address service needs,” he said.

The toolkit provides guidance through the “appraisal pathway”. This includes an electronic record of the appraisal and decision support tools to help appraisees follow up the process.

“The aim of appraisal is to provide a structured process to assess learning needs and make a plan,” said Dr Robinson.

Dr Robinson told Medexonline that work was also being carried out to add functionality that would anonymise and aggregate data about educational needs across a geographical area. This could provide valuable guidance about the educational requirements of local GPs for those planning post-graduate medical education.

An electronic poll of the audience, which included many GPs, showed that while 86% of the audience was aware of appraisals, only 42% had actually had one. After the session, 52% said they would use the toolkit, only 5% said they would not use it and 43% said they would like more information.

News of a further potential informatics aid to professional practice under development at SCHIN came from the centre’s director, Professor Ian Purves. He is working on PROFESS, an experimental project to test the feasibility of using comparative data analysis to help GPs reflect on their practice.

The system would enable GPs to have data from their practice aggregated by the Prescriptions Pricing Authority. PROFESS would enable participating GPs to compare their practice with that in other similar practices.

Professor Purves emphasised that the work was at an experimental stage and no validated. He has tested it out with one practice so far and much work remains to be done on a list of issues including professional ethics, security and confidentiality, technical standards and quality indicators.