The National Programme for IT has begun pilots of GP-to-GP record transfer between practices running EMIS and InPractice Systems, using dummy records, in three areas of the country.

GP-to-GP record transfer, when fully operational, will for the first time enable patient records to be seamlessly electronically transferred from one practice to another when a patient moves practices. The process of transferring patient records between practices is still paper-based and can currently take weeks.

Dr John Williams, joint chair of the Royal College of GPs and GPC IT committee, told E-Health Insider: "The GP-to-GP record transfer is not at the implementation stage as yet. We have just been through some intensive clinical safety tests with dummy records and the results look very promising.

"We still have no firm date on when the project will go live as we are still digesting those results, but we may be doing some testing, with patient consent, on real patient records quite soon in some selected practices. We will have more details on the project in the very near future."

GP-to-GP record transfer represents one of the most challenging aspects of the NPfIT, as it entails transferring a complete and accurate lifelong patient electronic record between very different GP systems that can be variously configured.

With a wide range of different GP systems in use, and many different configurations of each of the major systems, ensuring patient records can be accurately transferred is a huge challenge. In order to overcome these problems, GP-to-GP record transfers will work by translating all records taken from existing systems into a standard electronic health messaging language called HL7 v3, and then translating them back from HL7 v3 into the destination system.

Practices in the three areas, Leeds, Croydon and the Isle of Wight, will initially be testing the transfer of dummy records between practices. The areas were chosen due to their different combinations of EMIS and InPS GP clinical systems.

Sean Riddell, deputing managing director of EMIS, told E-Health Insider that the system, when implemented with real patient records, would be an important development for users: "GP-to-GP is seen as the top of the wish list for our practices."

He said that the implementation involved not just making sure the software worked but also that the systems could be integrated into the practices and new workflow processes developed around them. "It’s not just getting the message from one place to another, it’s the full workflow in the practice."

"Initial piloting work has been positive," he added. Riddell stated that EMIS had been working on GP record transfers between EMIS systems in practices in Gateshead, and that the pilot was an extension of this. "Really, what we have done is taken our EMIS GP-to-GP project and fitted it into the NPfIT project."

Dr Mike Robinson, clinical director of InPS, told E-Health Insider: "I think from a GP’s perspective, it’s probably the biggest early deliverable from the NPfIT for GPs. Choose and Book is about patient choice, ETP is much more around practices, with some benefits for patients. GP-to-GP transfer will give them the records of new patients almost as soon as they have arrived in the practice."

"InPS is very supportive of it and we think it’s a very important thing for NPfIT to have championed," he added.