NHSX has launched a national survey to better understand the usability of electronic patient records.

The survey aims to gather information on how electronic patient records (EPRs) are performing across the country, including how they are used by clinicians and end users.

Through gaining a better understanding of where EPRs are performing well, and where they can be improved, NHSX hopes to develop their useability and adoption throughout the health service.

NHSX has contracted US research organisation KLAS Research to conduct the survey. A further wave of the survey, launching later in the year, will look at the experience of a wider range of health professionals working in the acute sector.

The survey will contribute to the first part of evidence being gathered to support the What Good Looks Like framework, NHSX’s common vision for good digital practice set to be published later this summer.

NHSX also said it is intending to work in collaboration with suppliers to help them interpret and respond to the results and, ultimately, to ensure that their products are optimised to support NHS need.

Sonia Patel, NHSX’s CIO, said: “At NHSX we want to ensure the technology used everyday by frontline staff works for them and is designed with the user in mind.

“This is at the heart of our Electronic Patient Records (EPR) survey, we are beginning with community health, mental health and ambulance trusts before moving on to the acute sector later this year.

“We are seeking to reinvigorate the EPR market to ensure these crucial systems deliver all the benefits they should, and we will use the feedback from these surveys to inform our next steps on how we can drive improvements in EPRs at a national level.”

In 2016 Digital Health launched its Clinical Software Usability (CSU) survey which found differences in the reported usability of software used by NHS staff. The survey aimed to identify where software was performing well and where improvements were needed in usability.

More than 1,300 clinicians provided feedback on the survey, with many clinicians giving the software they use and overall rating of ‘OK’.

Dr Marcus Baw, who helped establish Digital Health’s CSU survey, said: “Renewed interested in usability is to be applauded, but it’s disappointing that NHSX has chosen not to build on past work done on usability in the NHS – specifically the 2016 Clinical Software Usability Study – and instead outsourced to a US company whose primary business model is to charge suppliers for access to user feedback.”

The UK EPR market

The EPR market in the UK includes a mix of US tech firms such as Epic and Cerner, as well as UK firms like System C.

Cerner has recently won a number of NHS contracts, including an EPR project at The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

It was also named the ‘preferred supplier’ of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals’ £25m EPR.

Epic has also secured a number of big contracts, including with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust which plans to go live with a £175m EPR from the supplier in April 2023.

Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust went live with a new EPR from Epic in October 2020, following on from Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust’s £108 million contract with Epic in August 2020.

Earlier in 2020 the supplier also won a £181m contract to provide and EPR for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and a £275m deal with Northern Ireland.

While Epic and Cerner have securing some big-billed contracts, there has been movement among UK suppliers as well.

Last year Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust went live with an electronic patient record powered by System C – replacing its contract with DXC Lorenzo (now owned by Dedalus).

The first round of NHSX’s survey seeks views from clinicians working in mental health, community health and ambulance settings. A second wave of the survey focusing on those working in hospital settings is due to launch later this year.

Clinicians wanting to take part in the survey can do so here.