The fight to go paperless is in full swing. The BBC reported in early February that the NHS was to receive £4bn to drive the paperless initiative. Great Ormond Street Hospital announced two weeks later that it was making the transition to an electronic patient record (EPR) system and looking for a supplier.

Where has this all come from?

You may well be aware that the NHS has been challenged to go paperless by 2018. This deadline has now been moved to 2020. To quote the NHS announcement from 2013, “By April 2018 - digital information [is] to be fully available across NHS and social care services, barring any individual opt-outs". Jeremey Hunt said that “the NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution” – unfortunately it looks like it is.

We have been to a few events where the paperless initiative has been discussed. Internally there are major problems with paper records. Patient data is spread across multiple trust sites that patients visit over the years. The general public assumes that their GP (and other consultant) records are available at their local hospital. However, this is not commonplace. So how can properly informed decision making take place?  In an emergency situation, accurate diagnoses are being delayed due to missing or unavailable information. How is this acceptable in 2016?

How are they doing it?

The sheer amount of paper gathered by one acute trust can be staggering. On one shift, a whole family sized bookcase can be filled with new paperwork. With this much paper floating around how do you even begin to think about going paperless?

Some trusts have planned ahead. Camden and Islington NHS Trust, for example, put together their plan back in 2013. They completed their move to an EPR system in September 2015. For others, it's not that simple. ComputerWeekly reported back in September 2015 that trusts like the Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust in Greater Manchester would need to scan nearly 100 million patient records.

Why bother?

There is also the age-old issue of engagement. Around 97% of GP surgeries have already gone through the process of digitising records. However, the uptake from the public seems to be slim. Data from the HSCIC shows that just 0.4% of GP patients in England have viewed their records online. The rhetoric from the department of health is that it will save time and money – which it will – but perhaps there should be more focus on the lives it will save by quickly delivering information to the doctors who need it, rather than providing online access direct to the patient.

Is it secure?

Where do all these images get stored? There’s reasonable concern from the public about data protection and accessing files over the internet.  People are coming around to the idea of ‘cloud’ however, they need to feel comfortable about who can access these files if they are stored in the ‘cloud’? Can it be hacked like an iCloud account? UK data centres with accreditations such as ISO:27001 will help play their part. Organisations assisting the trusts with these projects should look for a hosting provider with a track record of solid security and a passion for working with the healthcare sector.

The paperless initiative affects everyone, and it seems media outlets have just cottoned on. As deadlines get closer, and budgets tighten, it will be interesting to see if the NHS can reach the 2020 deadline or if Mr. Hunt will move it again.

A final word from 4D

At 4D we’re passionate about doing our bit to support the paperless initiative. We’re already supporting the NHS through our cloud provision for their ‘Find and Treat’ mobile TB scanning units but we’re keen to do more, motivated not just by our confidence in our highly secure cloud and connectivity solutions but by the personal experiences of staff and family whose healthcare could have been dramatically improved through the use of electronic patient records.

If you’re looking for a G-Cloud registered cloud provider with relevant experience, accreditations and a passion for healthcare technology we’d love to talk. Call us on 020 7183 0602.

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