NHS users find EMIS Health the supplier “most receptive to interoperability”, new industry research has suggested.

Compiled by Utah-based healthcare market research firm KLAS, the NHS Interoperability 2018 report assesses how easily NHS organisations are able to receive data from other bodies.

Some 141 individuals from 124 NHS organisations in England were interviewed for the research, including CIOs, CCIOs, CIOS, executives, consultants, IT directors and GP practice managers.

Respondents had the opportunity to rate the suppliers with whom they work or have attempted to work with when working towards interoperability goals.

KLAS said EMIS Health was regarded as most receptive to interoperability discussions, due to its efforts in recent years to make its system more interoperable.

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, Chief Medical Officer of EMIS Group, said: “The NHS needs to integrate technology to improve care and outcomes and this means suppliers have to engage with their customers to enable interoperability in many different ways.

“Over our 30-year history we have consistently taken proactive steps to enable our systems to be interoperable.  These include: publishing our own open standards; setting up a joint venture (Healthcare Gateway Ltd) with a competitor and signing a ground-breaking agreement with TPP to support customers with a mixed GP systems economy.

“This has led to major practical benefits on the ground.  For example, in Merseyside, record-sharing has seen over 14 million patient records accessed by different clinicians through EMIS Web – supporting the delivery of innovative services. Over 70% of prescriptions issued on EMIS Web in England are now electronic and EMIS is actively working with interOpen and NHS Digital to deliver FHIR based interoperability through the GP Connect program.”

EMIS ranked significantly higher than the second-most commonly used supplier among respondents, TPP, which KLAS found to be “[often] unwilling to facilitate outside data sharing”.

One TPP customer said: “About 20% of the time, TPP is awesome. 80% of the time, they dig their heels into the ground. They insist on doing things in their way or in no way.

“TPP does work for us that NHS Digital asks them to do rather than the work we want them to do. Most of the time, if they are given a specification or an API to do for NHS Digital, they have to do that. TPP waits until they are told to do something; they aren’t proactive.”

However, some other users quoted in the KLAS report praised TPP’s system.

One said: “TPP is very inviting, and it is very easy to collect data in their system. The user interface is very clean and intuitive. TPP has an interesting view of the world. I think their ideas about interoperability have changed a lot.”

When contacted for comment, a TPP spokesman told Digital Health News: “TPP is an enthusiastic supporter of interoperability and has led the way in the electronic sharing of health and social care records over the last 20 years. In 2017, we published ‘OpenNHS’, which set out how interoperability between systems could be implemented swiftly and effectively in the NHS.

“We are piloting a direct integration with EMIS across multiple care settings. TPP is now ready to make this available to all customers. Following the huge success of the pilot, we have a planned integration with Cerner to further interoperability between primary and secondary care systems.

“Our intention is to make this integration available to other suppliers and third parties free of charge over the coming months. This is in addition to our free interoperability product, EPR Core, which we have made available to secondary care organisations for many years.

“TPP currently integrates with an impressive 100+ partners. This number will continue to increase as a result of these ongoing projects.”

According to the report, which explored the most significant market barriers to interoperability, respondents also identified insufficient standards – such as coding or common interoperability methods – as a key issue.

Respondents complained of a lack of structured data from vendors, the inability to access data from the same software running on different trusts’ systems, and suppliers’ attitudes towards integrating systems.

One respondent, an NHS CIO from the North East of England, said: “The commercial model that the suppliers follow is very proprietary. They are not moving willingly toward open standards. Whenever suppliers do agree to move to a standard API, they want to charge their customers a lot of money for it. Each customer pays for the API multiple times.”

Some respondents therefore argued that the NHS should intervene and set data-sharing standards.

The report concluded that, while the discussion on interoperability “move[s] forward at a steady pace” within the NHS, there was still a need for suppliers to agree on how to best tackle the problem.

“Active discussions are happening at the local level, regional level (STPs or CCGs), and national level to advance the interoperability of health and social care,” KLAS stated.

“With organisations having such unique needs, it can be hard to get consensus on what form interoperability should take. Some organisations are just starting their interoperability journey and feel any information is helpful since it brings better care to patients.”

KLAS is due to present its findings at a techUK event in London on Monday 25 June.