The National Patient Safety Agency has awarded the contract for its new analysis and content management to the Cambridge-based software company, Autonomy.

The software, also called Autonomy, is integrated into the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS). It uses an ‘intelligent data operating layer’ to filter different kinds of media such as text, audio and video for content and subject matter. It then automatically categorises and summarises information according to keywords, and spot overall patterns of incidents.

Clive Flashman, head of information management at NPSA, said that the new system “enables us to dramatically increase the rate at which we can analyse reported incidents… the technology forms associations between documents to allow us to discover ‘the unknown’ by automatically forming intelligent connections."

“To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, it tells us what we didn’t know we didn’t know."

The NPSA believes it is also the first organization in the world to integrate a content and knowledge tracking and management system like Autonomy with the high-level statistical package SAS: “[The system] can now do fairly complex statistical analysis as well as categorisation."

It is hoped that the current reporting system used by the NPSA statistical team will soon be extended and simplified for the needs of all other NPSA staff.

One use for the software might be to monitor occurrences of a particular issue and send an alert to the NPSA when they get above a certain level. Then the issue can be cross-referenced with other PCTs and participating healthcare trusts, and solutions can be decided and passed on: “We are sharing the learning that’s going on in individual trusts among the many, and providing accessible learning."

Dominic Johnson, group marketing director of Autonomy, said of the contract: “We are pleased to be providing the information infrastructure to support the NPSA in its work to identify high-impact incidents and respond appropriately."

The Autonomy/SAS system is currently in place and will eventually be developed into a extranet allowing anonymous incident reporting and full exchange of information between healthcare professionals and the NPSA.