According to GP Peter Jenkins, Clinical Chair for NHS Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), prescriptions are issued for 450,000 individual drugs across Wiltshire where he is based, each month, equating to five million a year. It’s not always easy to interpret the huge volumes of prescription data that is recorded, making it a challenge to distinguish patterns in prescribing.
“Data intelligence provides a method to review our own prescribing and benchmark it against our colleagues. It is obviously only related to prescribing and needs to be taken in context with other aspects of patient care, but it provides a tool to enable further review and improvements where appropriate.
“The only way we’ve been able to access this kind of information up to now is to request it from our medicines management team.”
“OpenPrescribing will allow GPs to use prescription information to review practice prescribing performance and compare it to other practices locally and nationally.
“OpenPrescribing makes it easy for non-technical people to understand the scope of variation as the first step in understanding the reasons behind it and then improving prescribing practice.
“The platform makes data easily accessible on mobile devices, as well as on a computer, and can be accessed from anywhere, not just an NHS computer. It is very user-friendly and you can manipulate the graphs to expand the details you want to see. Being able to view graphs is always more meaningful than tables of data and the option to review the progress over a period of time is very helpful.
“OpenPrescribing allows us to identify areas for potential audit and perhaps improvements in practice where it’s not subject to local or national guidance.”
OpenPrescribing: the lowdown
The NHS spends about £9 billion on community prescribing per year. There is considerable variation in how medications are prescribed, suggesting sub-optimal practice.
Working with Ben Goldacre, a clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford, and Anna Powell-Smith, a computer programmer specialising in data analysis and visualisation, our approach was to take all GP prescribing data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (publically available yet inaccessible to most people due to the size and format of the data) and to present this information on every drug at both a CCG and practice level in an easily searchable website, open to all.
The OpenPrescribing.net website was launched in early December 2015. It has attracted 40,000 users so far, with a return rate of about 27%. The site has stimulated further funding and there is a growing number of anecdotal evidence from CCGs on how it has already helped inform prescribing.