The Government’s recent decision to launch a project creating digital records for patients that can be shared easily across the health and social care services caused a sensation, with trusts given a target of 2018 to switch to fully digitalised systems. In this article, CHRIS BOOTH from IT solutions company, Perceptive, provides a deeper insight into the benefits becoming paperless will bring to provider organisations and to the NHS as a whole
For the Government to succeed in its target of reducing the overall running cost of the NHS by £20billion, it must identify areas where savings can be made without negatively impacting frontline services.
Having worked with many NHS trusts over the years to help them streamline their clinical and back-office processes, I welcome the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that he wants the NHS to become paperless by 2018, the result being an estimated £4.4billion saving.
I am sure that this statement will have some additional clarity over the coming months to bring a focus to the key areas of savings.
Achieving almost a quarter of the required total NHS cost saving just by removing paper may seem unlikely, but delve deeper and you find that not only is it possible, it is also likely that the saving and added value benefits will be far greater
Achieving almost a quarter of the required total NHS cost saving just by removing paper may seem unlikely, but delve deeper and you find that not only is it possible, it is also likely that the saving and added value benefits will be far greater.
It isn’t the physical cost of paper that is the issue, but the cumbersome paper-based processes and the resources required to facilitate and manage them. The NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world and as such its staff represents if not the biggest cost, a very significant cost. During my career working alongside the NHS I have constantly been amazed by the resources needed to administer paper-based processes that other industries have successfully automated.
By far the biggest paper-based repositories in NHS trusts are the medical records libraries. In fact, I recently visited a hospital that had more than 50 people working in its medical records department. The annual costs associated with this are likely to be well in excess of £1m and that is before you factor in the expense of storing the records and stationary costs (paper, folders etc). There are also losses caused by operational inefficiencies such as the time taken to search and retrieve information and mislaid records resulting in cancelled, or delayed appointments. Multiply this by the number of trusts in the NHS and you quickly begin to realise the overall cost to the NHS.
Digitising medical records presents a whole raft of benefits to the NHS, not only in essential cost savings, but improved operational efficiency and effectiveness
Digitising medical records presents a whole raft of benefits to the NHS, not only in essential cost savings, but improved operational efficiency and effectiveness. Electronic records can be created, updated and amended, securely stored, shared and accessed many times faster than their paper counterparts. This ultimately has a positive impact on frontline service delivery and the patient experience, for example giving them access to their online records, as outlined in the Health Secretary’s statement. This approach can also underpin a trust’s Electronic Patient Record (EPR) strategy by removing the paper before the EPR comes online to complement the electronic medical records environment.
The NHS will benefit from solutions that have a collaborative element, combining innovative technology and healthcare domain expertise. For example, the use of intelligent capture allows healthcare professionals to extract content from paper documents and export them into electronic health records or automate the clinical coding process.
A single, enterprise-wide access platform for clinical content via any Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system is a reality thanks to a Universal Clinical Platform offering which provides users with a single enterprise view of all patient medical information from the Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. This allows doctors or clinicians to view content such as clinical notes, prescriptions, results, video, X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans from one electronic health record system.
2018 is an achievable timeframe to eliminate a great deal of paper from the NHS, however if it is to achieve this goal it needs to act fast and look at the successful projects that are currently in progress and in turn empower all trusts with investment and support to enable them to do the same
Crucially, this example is just clinical records. Begin adding other back-office processes such as HR and finance and the potential savings from going paperless become astronomical.
Creating a paperless NHS is a great headline grabbing announcement to begin 2013, but the wheels have been in motion for some time with pro-active trusts, such as Alder Hey, already realising benefits. Forward-thinking organisations that recognised the opportunity to streamline their back-office processes with electronic records management systems are now beginning to report a return on investment to their peers in just one year.
2018 is an achievable timeframe to eliminate a great deal of paper from the NHS, however if it is to achieve this goal it needs to act fast and look at the successful projects that are currently in progress and in turn empower all trusts with investment and support to enable them to do the same.