A new analysis of primary care open data reveals where, when and which GP surgeries across England are taking up innovative new drugs, technologies and practices.

The analysis is produced by the Nesta innovation foundation, using recently-released datasets from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). It also reveals how GP practices find out about promising new innovations, who are the early adopters and what is the underlying process for adopting innovation. 

The process enables the identification of groups of early adopters around specific types of innovations. The study also finds that larger GP practices are in a better position to explore and introduce new innovations, while neighbouring practices tended to have similar rates and patterns of adopting new innovations.

GPs rely on a range of resources to identify and learn about innovations - including informal local networks, personal relationships and information systems - while fellow GPs and national guidance are particularly influential sources of information, the study finds.

Moreover, local intermediaries such as the recently-formed Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have an important role to play in championing earlier adoption of important new medicines, diagnostics and IT tools.

As well as showing the varied uptake of certain proven drugs, technologies and practices by GP surgeries, the report explores how making use of open data can also help understanding of trends and differences in service within primary care, and inform patient and practitioner priorities and choices. And, as open datasets grow and become more consistent, they could also be applied to build on informative resources such as NHS Choices and the Atlas of Variation, it suggests.

“It’s widely accepted that the NHS does not adopt effective new technologies fast enough - this study points the way to better performance,” says the report’s co-author Richard Barker, who is director of the Centre for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical Innovation (CASMI).

“Advances in treatment options and new IT processes need to be taken up and used by GPs if we are to improve the quality of NHS care,” adds Jo Casebourne, director of public and social innovation at Nesta.

“Now it is easier to see who is doing what and where in our public services, thanks to the greater availability of open data. This knowledge is powerful. It will allow those working in healthcare to make real changes and will help us all to encourage more doctors to take up tested new ideas,” she says.