Record keeping: encompassing digital

A groundbreaking project to digitise health and social care records is coming to Northern Ireland, and physiotherapy staff are part of it 

Encompassing digital

Corrina Grimes, encompass head of business change management and a dietitian by profession explains:

In Northern Ireland, health and social care services currently use a range of different systems to store health and care records. Many of these systems are now old and struggle to connect with each other and so we are taking a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in the latest technology to help transform the way we care for people. 

The new system, called encompass, is a Health and Social Care (HSC)-wide initiative to introduce a digital integrated care record to Northern Ireland, replacing, modernising and consolidating many of HSC’s fragmented and isolated systems. Aimed at helping improve quality, patient safety, research, patient engagement and staff experience, it will bring health and care information - including care plans, test results, medication records, communication and mobility needs and appointments – into one central record.

It will enable health professionals to safely and securely access a patient’s full medical history, including conditions and treatments, and test results, and to note, prescribe and refer within their scope of practice. 

Ahead of its implementation, the encompass team are working closely with service users, carers, clinicians and other HSC professionals to ensure this new digital solution is fit for all of their purposes. And hundreds of staff across the province have recently attended demonstrations hosted by the supplier, Epic.

As the development continues, physiotherapy workers - alongside other health and social care professionals - will be consulted on the workflow in their specific subject areas. And encompass will work closely with individual trusts to promote opportunities for staff to contribute to design sessions. 

If you work in Northern Ireland, you will learn about these opportunities through clinical networks and your trust management. 

Euan McComiskie, CSP health informatics lead and professional advisor for Northern Ireland comments:

If the product matches the promise, encompass has the potential to be genuinely groundbreaking in terms of electronic health and social care record.

I don’t know of anywhere else in the UK or further afield that brings together health and social care information on a national scale.

Although Northern Ireland is not huge (it is smaller than some English regions) it is still a challenge to bring all trusts, systems, professions and service models together in one place. 

All health and social care staff will have access to encompass, although GP data will continue to be added to their individual systems. However, having all other agencies and users in one place will make interoperability of systems and sharing of data much easier when the number of systems to be joined up reduces considerably. Having all this information in one place will undoubtedly result in more informed decisions being made with better patient outcomes expected as a result. 

Both Epic and the encompass project team will be evaluating the implementation and use of the system to get intelligence on its impact.

Physiotherapists in Northern Ireland are already engaged with the project to ensure that the specification needed by the profession is met in the development and testing phases. 

Some physios have been appointed as subject matter experts but we need large scale sign-up and involvement to ensure that our needs are met by encompass. 

The project team and CSP team in Northern Ireland will be in touch directly with members when there are more opportunities to get involved. 
Watch this space for more information.

Exciting development

Pippa McCabe, physiotherapy lymphoedema clinical lead, South Eastern Trust and AHP e-health professional advisor, Public Health Agency (on secondment), comments:

This is a hugely exciting development for physiotherapy staff in Northern Ireland. Having been involved in pre-procurement assessments, and as one of the 2,000 staff present at the demonstrations of the Epic system, the potential benefits are clear to me.

The introduction of the Northern Ireland Electronic Care Record (NIECR) in 2013 (which collates test results, hospital letters, GP referral information and medication) gave us a taster of having more patient information at our fingertips… hugely helpful for the poor historian with no family members that you have limited referral information on! However, if encompass matches the Epic product it has the potential to provide benefits through the layers of our services:

  • more tangible, real time and accessible data on our services will lead to improved and timely decision making for managers
  • not having to open several different systems to input or find out information about your patients, and pre-population of records and letters from elsewhere in the system will speed up record keeping and administrative tasks for clinicians
  • being able to interact (provide information, shared goal setting, for example) with patients via the patient portal will support engagement and improve outcomes.

These are just a few basic examples of the areas that encompass could improve, but as the first national project of its kind the scope of development within physiotherapy is yet unknown. Population data of this kind could be applied in so many ways.

While we will be adopting a model system, there is a vital role to play in the design of the system, particularly for the community and social care elements, and I would encourage all physiotherapy staff in Northern Ireland to be aware of developments and engage with the process to ensure our needs are met. It also means we will be informed to provide information to patients, whose involvement is also absolutely key in this process.

While we can’t underestimate just how much work there is to do, this is such an opportunity, and we need to grab it with both hands.

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