NHS information strategy: cash incentives are key to success

NHS informatics leaders believe US-style health sector financial incentives could drive new NHS information strategy

The NHS information strategy will be driven by financial incentives, possibly similar to those introduced by US President Obama, Dr Paul Altmann, chief clinical information officer at Oxford university hospitals NHS trust, told Guardian Government Computing at the Westminster Health Forum.

“In America one of the things that Obama has done very well is to develop this concept of meaningful use,” he said. “So all healthcare organisations are told that they need to work towards electronic-centred information over three to four years.

“If they do so much in year one then they get a significant amount of money. In year two they get a little bit less, and in year three they get less. If they haven’t achieved it in year four, then they start being penalised.

“Perhaps we need to develop similar incentive processes.”

Altmann said that GPs have been very effectively incentivised by financial payments. “Sadly, you have to give people incentives. You can’t rely just on their desire to improve outcomes,” he added.

Asked whether the strategy needed sanctions and rewards to incentivise change, Dr Charles Gutteridge, the Department of Health’s national clinical director for informatics, said: “I think it is clear now from the experience in the US that careful application of sanctions and rewards does make a difference to the adoption of such systems.”

Gutteridge echoed Altmann’s views on IT implementation in general practice: “If we look historically at what happened in GP computing, there were very strong business rewards – not necessarily a handout from government – for running your GP practice economically.

“This drove the adoption of systems in general practice which did not happen in the hospital service.”

The 10-year strategy, The power of information: putting all of us in control of the health and care information we need, promises a capital fund set up by the Department of Health. Initially it will run from next year until 2015. The details of how this can be best made to work will be developed by the department over the summer and autumn.

According to the strategy, the intention is that NHS organisations that have not implemented patient administration systems through the National Programme for IT will receive capital funding.

This article is published by Guardian Professional. For weekly updates on news, debate and best practice on public sector IT, join the Guardian Government Computing network here.

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