The NHS will begin delivering leaflets to 26.5 million households across England today, which explain that for the first time patient data will be collected from GPs to improve quality of care.
The anonymised data will be collated by the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and be used to analyse characteristics of patients and their treatments in a bid to obtain "low-cost answers" to questions about the quality of care that would have been "difficult or impossible to answer only a few years ago".
Dr Geraint Lewis, Chief Data Officer at NHS England, said: "The NHS has been collecting information like this from hospitals for decades but until now we've been missing information about the quality of care provided outside hospital.
"This initiative is about upgrading our information systems to get a more complete picture of the quality of care being delivered across all parts of the NHS and social care."
A spokesperson for NHS England told Computerworld UK that the information will begin to be collected in two months' time, but patients not wanting to have their data harnessed can speak to their GPs about opting out of the system.
An information line has been set up for patients to call if they have any questions or concerns about how their data are used. The number is 0300 456 3531.
NHS England has said that sharing this information could help ensure that quality and safety of services is consistent across the county and could also highlight different diseases and conditions that may require more NHS investment.
"The Health and Social Care Information Centre was set up as the legal 'safe haven' for protecting and managing patient information," said Dr Mark Davies, Medical Director at the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
"We want everyone to feel confident that their information is kept private and used in non-identifiable form to improve the quality of health and social care for everyone. Equally important is that everyone knows that they have a choice and can raise an objection by simply talking to their GP."
In other news, the government has made a commitment to create a paperless NHS by 2018, in a bid to save £4.4 billion a year.
By March 2015 everyone in the UK should be able to get online access to their health records held by their GP and GPs should be able to refer patients via email, instead of having to send a letter.
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