PROPER medical records save lives, says retired York GP Dr Peter Smith.

Without them, doctors and medics are working in the dark.

“You don’t know patients' immunisation record, what drugs they have had in the past, what they might be allergic to.”

But it goes much further than that. Proper medical records also help you to track the progress of a disease through an area – and take steps to stop it.

In the remote villages of eastern Uganda where, over the past 10 years, Peter has spent a total of seven months working in local clinics, it is malaria, diarrhoea (caused by dirty water) and pneumonia that are the big killers.

Without medical records, Peter says, you don’t know which village the patients you are treating have come from, so you can’t spot patterns of disease.

With medical records, however, you can – which means you can take steps to prevent disease spreading.

York Press: Dr Peter Smith, in red, with local medical staff at a clinic in Bushika, UgandaDr Peter Smith, in red, with local medical staff at a clinic in Bushika, Uganda (Image: Outreach EMR)

“If you are treating a lot of children with malaria, and know which village they are from, you can go to that village and give them mosquito nets,” Peter said.

“Or if you have a lot of children with diarrhoea from the same village, you can go to that village and see what is happening.

“It might be that people are digging latrines too near the stream that drinking water comes from. So you encourage them to dig their latrine further away. It’s that simple.”

That’s why the easy-to-use electronic medical records system being provided by Peter’s charity Outreach EMR is making such a difference in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Outreach EMR provides the software that enables the system to be quickly installed on clinics’ laptops.

The charity also provides routers so that the system users can set up their own wi-fi hotspot and don’t need to rely on non-existing internet access.

York Press: Patients waiting at a clinic in Bukasakya, UgandaPatients waiting at a clinic in Bukasakya, Uganda (Image: Outreach EMR)

The software uses clever drop-down menus that enable clinic staff with even fairly basic literacy to keep a record of their patients’ medical histories.

It takes just two days to train local staff – usually nurses – to use the software effectively, Peter said.

The system can then be used to store – and, where necessary, share - a whole range of data about the clinic’s patients.

It can record details of 300 diseases: and can be used to ‘stocktake’ – it keeps a record of what drugs are available in each clinic, so local practitioners know when to order more medication.

It can even be tailored to local clinics’ needs by the use of software ‘plug-ins’.

These, for example, can enable local medics to keep track of children’s growth – their height and weight. “If these fall off, you know the child is not well,” Peter said.

York Press: The waiting room at the busy clinic in Bukasakya, UgandaThe waiting room at the busy clinic in Bukasakya, Uganda (Image: Outreach EMR)

The software was designed free of charge by an IT friend of Peter’s.

And, first used in clinics in Uganda but now being adopted in rural clinics across the world from Haiti to the Philippines, the system is saving lives.

“We know we have made a difference,” Peter said. “For example, pockets of malaria and diarrhoea have been found.”

The charity has a small UK team of 14 people – mainly volunteers - who provide the knowhow.

Five are current or retired York GPs - including Peter - who make regular visits to clinics. The system itself is then operated in those clinics by local staff or NGOs.

York Press: A mother brings her child to a clinic in Matuwa, UgandaA mother brings her child to a clinic in Matuwa, Uganda (Image: Outreach EMR)

The charity, which turns 10 this year, does have overheads, however.

It needs to raise £15-£20,000 every year to keep going, Peter says.

This year, to mark the 10th anniversary, it hopes to raise £30,000.

The next fundraising event is on June 1: a book and picture sale at St Olave’s Church in Marygate from 10am-4pm.

To make a donation to Outreach EMR, visit