Data quality in primary care is improving to the point that GPs may begin to provide useful public health information, according to PRIMIS, the primary care information services based at the University of Nottingham.
In an interview to mark the publication of prevalence figures by PRIMIS, Dr Pete Horsfield, clinical director, said: ‘GPs and practices seem to be getting the skills and knowledge and attitudes to create patient records that look fairly meaningful.’
Although it is very difficult to find or develop a measure of data quality in primary care, Dr Horsfield said: ‘We have got figures that can only be interpreted as improvements in data quality.’
The figures are a first for PRIMIS, which is funded by the NHS Information Authority and works with more than 90 per cent of PCTs in England and over 4000 practices to boost the use of computers in clinical general practice and improve data quality in primary care.
The prevalence data track 14 conditions providing a picture of how many people have diabetes, heart disease, asthma, epilepsy and other common long-term diseases. They provide a breakdown by age and gender.
They were derived from more than 21 million patient records between 1 January 2003 and 31 January 2005.
Dr Horsfield was careful not to claim any immediate use for the data other than as a demonstration that general practice is improving data quality.
‘The figures are all derived from our work with general practice, helping them to improve the quality of their data,’ he said. ‘We have been able to track changes over the last four to five years that would suggest that this is having an impact.’
As an example to illustrate the sort of change taking place at practice level, he outlined a typical scenario where PRIMIS data on diabetes management and prevalence were at odds with the practice’s expectations.
He said: ‘That provides a stimulus to the practice to look at what is going wrong. For example it might be something simple such as the nurses thinking the doctors record patients’ blood pressures on the computer while the doctors think the nurses do it.’
He added that PRIMIS’s data are complementary to QMAS, the Quality Management Assurance System, which on February 14 2005 saw nearly all GP practices submit data on the prevalence of 10 long-term conditions for comparison with estimates from other sources in a bid to build up a picture of the health of the nation on a single day.
Dr Horsfield was speaking as PRIMIS’s future comes under scrutiny. Its current contract, which transfers to NPfIT at the end of this month, ends in July 2005. In February NPfIT put out an OJEC tender for a new service.
The tender specifically seeks to build on PRIMIS’s success. The University of Nottingham team will be bidding for the new contract, Dr Horsfield confirmed.