Principal GP system suppliers are backing the government’s move to require open Application Programme Interfaces to encourage innovation in the primary care IT market.

The Department of Health has tendered for a new GP Systems of Choice framework, which funds GP IT systems for more than 80% of English practices, worth up to £1.2 billion over two years.

The memorandum of information says the new contract aims to encourage new entrants to the GP market to improve competition and innovation.

It will do this is by, “establishing a system of open interfaces and standards to support integration with existing GPSoC systems”.

The new contract also provides a modular procurement framework for third parties to sell in to the GP market.

This includes central funding for patient access software, provided by principal or subsidiary suppliers, to meet the government target for all patients to have online access to their patient records by March 2015.

Emis group chief executive Chris Spencer said open APIs should “spur on innovation from both new and existing suppliers”.

However, there were two important challenges to work on.

“One is to ensure continuing data integrity and information governance, for example through watertight data-sharing agreements,” Spencer said.

“The second is to maintain optimum core system performance, for example to safeguard response times, which otherwise may be compromised by the running of resource-hungry data extracts."

Microtest managing director Chris Netherton said the company would fully participate in the development of the new open interface and would offer a compliant version of Microtest Evolution at the “earliest possible date”.

“We welcome the removal of barriers to new and innovative entrants in the healthcare IT market and the moves to make the regulatory and administrative overhead proportional to the size of the supplier,” he said.

“There will be significant work to complete the design and development of the open interfaces and it is important that these are not unduly influenced by an unrepresentative number of suppliers.

“Microtest believe that – given the significant differences between systems and various software solutions – defining a single open interface will need to be an iterative process,” Netherton explained.

INPS managing director Max Brighton said: “We support initiatives to drive better use of technology and innovation to help with patient care and the overall efficiency of NHS processes.”

Ewan Davis, founder of the Healthcare App Network for Development and Innovation, said the requirement on principal system suppliers to provide open interfaces would further open up the GP IT market.

“Currently, while all of the GP suppliers have partner programmes, it can be difficult for third parties to gain access to the interfaces they need, particularly if their products compete with those of the principal system supplier,” he said.

“The new arrangements create a contractual obligation to provide interfaces and this change has been welcomed by current and potential subsidiary system suppliers.”

However, Davis argued that turning this contractual commitment into a practical reality would require work and vigilance by the GPSoC team to ensure principal suppliers complied with both the letter and spirit of the new arrangements.

“We have yet to see how the detail of the arrangements will work, but are encouraged by the fact that the GPSoC Team acknowledge the issues and seem minded to address them,” he added.