An interoperability handbook and procurement guide will be released tomorrow to help clinical commissioning groups write their digital roadmaps and healthcare providers achieve the vision of interoperable patient records.

Inderjit Singh, NHS England's head of enterprise architecture, said at the NHS Expo in Manchester today that the interoperability handbook will support CCGs in preparing their plans for going paperless by 2020, which need to be submitted by next April.

Singh said these roadmaps will define and articulate where CCGs want to get to and a new ‘digital maturity index’ will define where they are now. The handbook is intended to help them get between these two places.

It will reiterate the ‘interoperability strategy’ that was first released as part of one of the National Information Board’s workstreams.

These are taking forward the latest NHS IT framework, ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020’, which was itself issued to support the ‘Five Year Forward View’ plan to save the NHS £22 billion by 2020-21.

The handbook will then give options for how to achieve the interoperability strategy’s ultimate aims and outline the standards, policy and guidance organisations should looking to consider when planning their digital journeys.

Singh said the handbook will help to define what is meant by interoperability as it is “an overused and overly technical word”.

He added that while NHS England does not want to dictate what CCGs and providers should do, the guidance will provide an “overall framework for local decision making to occur.”

“The last thing we want to do is create more and more portals and systems, so this is around: ‘How do you make it as easy as possible for clinicians to access this information?’” he said.

Singh said the key will be the use of open APIs, which will help information sharing both locally and beyond geographic borders.

While local areas will have autonomy on how they achieve the paperless target, there is an expectation that APIs will be exposed, regardless of vendor or location.

“Patients will be crossing localities so we need a common set of APIs so patients can move across geographies and localities and still get access to their information,” he said.

The eventual aim is for clinicians to use their native IT system to access directly and contribute to summary and detailed care information about their patients; and for patients themselves to be able to access this information.  

NHS England is also working on a national patient record index to allow healthcare providers to see where information on a patient is held.

Singh said he does not want to create a situation in 2020 in which there are more information silos than already exist.

He said NHS England is working with the pioneer sites, vanguards and Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund areas to help understand the priorities and potential blockers to achieving interoperability and provide best practice examples for other regions to use.

NHS England is also supporting an interoperability charter released by Tech UK, and this will be referenced in the handbook.