Paperless NHS – will it improve patient care?

Technological progress within the NHS has been slow at best. Beset with issues around development and the practicalities of implementation, such as going paperless, the NHS has gradually found itself more and more behind the private sector in its use of digital technologies. While the patients that it serves become used to using digital services in every aspect of their lives, the NHS risks its processes falling out of step with its service users with increasingly negative impact.

Successive governments have identified the need to improve the level of digital services provided to patients and the positive impact that digital transformation on the NHS as a whole will have on the patients and its workforce – the largest in the country.

What do these ambitious moves towards digital mean for the millions of people who use the NHS every year, and can any impact help drive success in any plans?

Jeremy Hunt, then Health Secretary, called for a paperless NHS as far back as 2013, with an ambitious target of achieving such by 2020. Digital Health Intelligence concludes that the NHS won’t meet its paperless targets before 2027. In May 2019, the target of 2020 looks impossible, but let’s look at the possible impact that moving to some paperless systems, including paperless audits, could have on patients.

Connecting disparate parts together

The NHS is made up of hundreds of separate but linked organisations. A patient may travel through various parts of this huge ecosystem during the course of treatment. From visiting their GP through a referral to a consultant, to post-operative care and prescriptions, each part of the chain uses technology and a large amount of paper to keep records.

Data flows have been a challenge and will be more so as the population grows and service users increase. Imagine if records – and information – could be transferred from one part to another instantly. It may not decrease waiting times, but ensures any information is ready at the point of request.

Digital-first options for medical staff could free up time for healthcare thanks to efficiencies that digital platforms create. Provided any system is designed with the end user in mind, is simple and meets the need of the team, it will take less time to enter information, only requiring the necessary information and processing it rapidly.

Diagnosis can potentially be speeded up thanks to a reduction in the administration burden.

Potentially, it also allows trainees in the system more time to research and learn, improving overall levels of competence which has a direct positive effect on the patient.

Safety in numbers

With a single ‘provider’ of public healthcare, the UK collects an extraordinary amount of data. We’re already seeing a number of clinical audits and registries moving to digital platforms.

Data from audits helps clinicians and researchers to better understand illnesses and diseases, which in turn helps them work towards improving care to patients undergoing treatment.

Improvements in healthcare have a positive impact on patient care, so any method of improving the capturing of data in this way must be welcomed.

The process of data collection, therefore, is critical to its speed and success. Digital platforms that are being developed right now provide healthcare professionals with the tools to enter data efficiently and accurately, and send this on to those who can use it to make a direct difference to treatment outcomes.

For more information on how your pharmacy can start the process of moving your audits to a digital platform and contribute positively to the NHS Paperless target, please contact us on 0203 747 5730.