Digital Health

What 'paperless' should mean for the NHS

By: Aidan Kerrigan, National Sales Director at Ricoh UK
Published: Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 11:04 GMT Jump to Comments

Another announcement from the NHS details its next flagship pledge towards a paperless future. What should this mean for patients, and how can the organisation achieve this goal?

The NHS has once again committed itself to a paperless future. Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information, stated that health and social care services in England must end the “unnecessary” reliance on paper in the treatment of patients, when he recently addressed leaders at the NHS Innovation Expo Conference in Manchester.

Senior NHS management have earmarked 2020 as the date they want to achieve this ‘paper-free at the point of care’ goal. Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have to submit delivery plans by April next year, detailing how they will eradicate the use of paper in their region in this timeframe. If reducing paper wasn’t top of the priority list for decision-makers before, it certainly is now.  

This, of course, isn’t the first time the NHS has made statements committing to its paperless future. Back in January 2013, then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the organisation should do so by 2018 ‘to save billions, improve services and help meet the challenges of an ageing population’.

So the move to a paperless future is most certainly on the NHS agenda, but what should this change mean for the organisation, its patients and how can it achieve this goal?

Paperless shouldn’t mean abandoning paper entirely

The move has been hailed as a significant driver of positive change, but we must consider more than just how the majority of patients would like to access services. This is an organisation that must provide critical services that are accessible to everyone in the UK, not just most of us.

Rather than referring to the abolition of the use of paper entirely, paperless should in fact result in the reduction of an overall reliance on paper. This is because many people - the elderly, the homeless and those with mental illnesses - will still rely on traditional forms of communication. These people may not have access to the internet or the skills required to complete digital forms online.

Manage documentation

With specific document management solutions, the NHS can ensure that forms filled in on paper are automatically entered onto digital databases, saving the time staff members take with this arduous task and also ensuring data is entered securely and accurately.

The physical documentation should then be destroyed, to comply with Data Protection legislation. Then, as a follow up, the NHS should ensure it keeps in touch with patients in the channels they’re most comfortable with.

Help patients on a digital journey

The NHS should make pledges to support hard-to-reach individuals to make the transition from paper to digital services over time. By helping people make the transition to accessing services through digital platforms, the NHS will help future-proof itself as an organisation - ensuring that nobody is left behind.

Get procurement right

For all of this to be enabled, and for the NHS to ensure this pledge results in the ‘billions’ of pounds of savings it intends to, there must be a fundamental shift-change in the way the organisation manages technology and documentation.

This must happen from the outset; procurement. Traditionally, the NHS has purchased products from manufacturers, without fully considering the roll-out, implementation and final use of the technology. For example, if a trust is seeking to digitise its services - from data input to replacing a back-log of paper documentation - it must begin by calling for an audit of its processes before seeking tenders for the technology solutions.

Typically, trusts will go out to tender with a shopping list of technology without taking into account the extent of solutions devices can provide.    

Finally, trusts don’t need to find time to conduct this auditing themselves, they just need to listen to the experts who possess the practical knowledge. With the right solution, decision-makers need not consider technology as a cost, it actually forms an integral part of the overall saving process – supporting medical staff to spend more time with patients and less time on repeat, admin-heavy tasks.

The NHS has made a huge commitment to cut its reliance on paper in the coming years, to streamline its approach to healthcare and improve overall patient services. To achieve this goal, however, it must first evaluate all the processes that currently require paper.

The first thought should always be ‘how can we make this process simpler?’ and then ‘how can we use technology to do so?’ Only then will this invaluable organisation achieve the real and positive change it seeks.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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