England’s two major GP clinical system suppliers are about to begin trialling a direct integration between their systems to allow GPs to share patient records more easily.

TPP and Emis are working with Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust and NHS Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group on two pilots that will allow users of Emis Web or TPP’s SystmOne to view data stored on the other system without the need for an external integration service.

The pilot at Central London Community Healthcare will allow the trust’s rapid response team, which uses the SystmOne Community module,  to view data in real-time from GP practices using Emis Web. The pilot at Waltham Forest will see records shared between a SystmOne GP practice and an extended hours service using Emis Web.

The pilots were due to begin on 15 October, but have been delayed as the companies need to finalise technical and information governance issues. “Work is progressing well,” an Emis spokesperson told Digital Health News.

A TPP spokesperson added: “We are hoping that the project will go live soon and are still working with Emis to achieve this aim.”

The two companies, which together cover around 85% of England's population, first announced back in March 2013 that they were working on a data-sharing agreement to allow clinicians to see information held in each other’s systems. 

This plan was called off in July 2013 after talks between the two companies broke down. However, an announcement was made in March this year that the companies had signed a data sharing agreement to enable direct interoperability between their clinical systems. 

In a comment to Digital Health News on Emis and TPP’s pilot project, Tony Willis, committee member of the SystmOne National User Group described the move as “welcome news”.

He added: “Increasing interoperability of clinical systems in the UK is one of the core elements of NHS strategy. This update will ultimately deliver improved outcomes and experience for patients through better integrated care as well as result in increased efficiency for healthcare professionals and better informed decision making."

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the joint British Medical Association and Royal College of GPs IT subcommittee, told Digital Health News: “Data sharing is obviously a good idea. However it must be done legally and with the patient’s wishes at heart and in accord with best practice and guidance.

“We know from research amongst patients that they do not want indiscriminate data sharing and as [national data guardian] Dame Fiona [Caldicott]'s review confirmed data sharing should be on a need to know basis.”

There is a movement towards greater interoperability between computer systems used in the NHS to improve patient care.

This includes the launch this summer of trade body Tech UK’s Interoperability Charter for Health and Social Care and the Newcastle Declaration, a document signed by clinical information leaders from across the NHS that calls for interoperability to be recognised as vital to safe, connected patient care. 

Emis founder and health IT veteran David Stables has also set up a charity called Endeavour Health to drive interoperability between different systems in the NHS, while Ripple is a new Leeds-based project to spread good practice in sharing information.

* This integration is now live