The drive for interoperability across the health and social care system must be backed by strong business planning and organisational change to succeed, new guidelines say.

 ‘BCS Interoperability Guidelines for Health and Care Networks’, released by BCS Health this month, says that while organisations are increasingly implementing IT solutions, many have not yet adjusted for the need to move to “new models of care across clinically integrated networks” and share information between different systems.

“It is therefore critical that patient information is able to flow seamlessly between these IT systems to support and enhance the patient journey, ensuring that clinicians always have the right information in the right place at the right time to make clinical decisions.”

The guidelines say improving interoperability will also be crucial to delivering new integrated care models, as outlined in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View strategy.

Organisations working on information sharing projects must “manage roadmaps and expectations” by developing high-level objectives about their goals. They should also outline necessary “business capabilities” such as care plans, discharges and referrals that are essential components of any information sharing project.

The document says experience from early adopters shows that the development of information sharing agreements “takes considerable time but [is] a vital step on the…path”.

It says organisations working on the agreements should make sure they take the future scope of the project into account, rather than planning to add information in later on.

The guidelines also highlight the need for awareness of the culture change that is necessary within organisations for interoperability projects to succeed.

“Introducing interoperability across multiple organisations impacts both the way people perform their individual jobs, end-to-end workflows, and organisational culture.

“If this is not understood and planned for, then the opportunity to leverage the information that is available will be dramatically diminished.”

The document says clinicians and carers will need training to understand when they can use the information in their workflows and how it will help them, while different organisations will have different attitudes to information sharing projects.

Paul Mukherjee, the BCS lead for the guidelines, said the organisation hopes the document will help health and care providers to understand how they can share information to improve quality.

“Following reviews, care providers commented that they wish they had this guideline as they embarked on their projects, and one is able to use it as a checklist of where things might be going wrong for an early project.”

Justin Whatling, the chairman of BCS Health, said the guidelines are a “practical, high-level tool” to share best practice across the country.

“We hope that this basic interoperability guideline will help give early pointers to interoperability projects and seek more detailed understanding from professional bodies and networks.”