Aim: To compare the experience of the four UK countries in introducing nationally accessible electronic summaries of patients' key medical details, intended for use in emergency and unscheduled care episodes, and generate transferable lessons for other countries.
Method: Secondary analysis of data collected previously on all four schemes; cross-case comparison using a framework derived from diffusion of innovations theory.
Main findings: Whilst all four programmes shared a similar vision, they differed widely in their strategy, budget, implementation plan, approach to clinical and public engagement and approach to evaluation and learning. They also differed, for various reasons, in stakeholder alignments, the nature and extent of resistance to the programme and the rate at which records were created. A nationally shared, widely accessible electronic record has powerful symbolic meaning; it may or may not be perceived as improving the quality and safety of care or (alternatively) as threatening patient confidentiality or the traditional role of the doctor or nurse. 'Hard' project management oriented to achieving specific milestones and deadlines sometimes appeared counterproductive when it cut across the 'softer' aspects of the programmes.
Conclusion: When designing and implementing complex technologies with pervasive implications, policymakers must consider not only technical issues but also the personal, social and organisational aspects of the programme. A judicious blend of 'hard' and 'soft' management appears key to managing such programmes.
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