NHS England wants an open source electronic patient record system to be an option for NHS trusts, “if they want it."

Last month, NHS England staff travelled across the Atlantic to look at the US Veterans Health Administration’s VistA open source EPR.

Paul Rice, head of technology strategy at NHS England, told EHI the trip had given the team a better understanding of what it would mean for the NHS.

“We went across to understand the architecture of it, what it provides and what their plans are going forward, and to see if there’s a possibility of an NHS VistA,” he said.

He added that the idea to go and look at the system came from the Health Innovation Expo, where NHS England had a conversation with representatives from the US.

“There was a specific need to go and talk to the VA about it. VistA has been developed by clinicians and it’s very strongly a clinical solution. The operating model is not that different from the NHS.

“Before we could make a decision on whether we could support that in the NHS, we went over to see how it worked.

“We’ve come back with a greater insight and understanding and we’re beginning to socialise the idea of whether this is something the NHS wants.

“It’s not a completely unlikely or unexplored option. It gives us the potential for a more resilient and enduring range of products."

Rice added that there are many suppliers on the market, but most of them are proprietary systems and do not have open application programming interfaces.

Earlier this year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced his vision of a ‘paperless NHS’ by 2018.

Trusts are expected to have plans for using electronic records in place by 2014 and to be implementing them the following year.

Next week, NHS England is due to issue guidance for trust on how to go about this.

“Going forward we’re encouraging people to look at best of breed. There will be an opportunity in the guidance for trusts themselves to explore in detail if it’s something they want,” said Rice.

“We’re not going to make people do it, or impose it on them, but see if they’re interested in a project based on an open source solution.

"It will only work if the NHS wants to participate and we in no way dictate how they want it to operate.”

Read EHI editor Jon Hoeksma’s view of NHS England’s open source plans in Insight.