The digital challenge: achieving a paperless NHS by 2020

The digital challenge: achieving a paperless NHS by 2020
© iStock/thomasandreas

Despite calls for a paperless NHS back in 2013, the service is far from completing its paperless journey. Qlik’s David Bolton sets out how to get there

The rise of digital in the NHS has certainly hit the headlines of late – from major tech funding boosts to deliver enhanced patient care, to calls from Health Secretary Matt Hancock to introduce a nationwide ‘health app’. A paperless NHS is a much required service.

But what people tend to forget is that the NHS has been one of the nation’s biggest data generators, filling thousands of shelf miles with patient records. This was long before the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are currently living in.

The emergence of a dynamic and paperless vision

With the NHS turning 70 this year, the way patient data is stored, managed and used is changing forever. This includes the emergence of a dynamic and paperless vision for the future of the service. Yet, despite calls for a paperless NHS back in 2013 by the then health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the service is far from completing its paperless journey. Indeed, 94% of NHS trusts are still using handwritten notes for patient records.1

While fresh investment is vital for modernising and upgrading legacy systems, the NHS cannot wait around and must instead make use of the technologies available to it now. The focus should be on equipping staff with intuitive, easy-to-use, but powerful tools. This is what will drive true change and keep us on track towards a paperless NHS by 2020.

According to Orlando Agrippa, CEO at healthcare analytics firm Draper & Dash, it’s just a matter of balancing priorities and having the extra human and capital fire power to get there: “Over and above the fire power needed, the NHS needs a mindset shift which embraces a technology revolution shaking off the old ways of approaching the paperless challenge.”

So, how can the NHS truly achieve a paperless future?

It’s not just about more funding

The NHS must ensure that its digital fund doesn’t get lost in the weeds of buying more laptops, desktops and smartphones. While these all generate data, if the data isn’t being captured and analysed, then it’s not the best use of investment.

There needs to be a more standardised approach across all NHS trusts for how data can be effectively handled and analysed for greater patient outcomes. Operating in siloes is simply not going to cut it when it comes to handling and analysing data.

Take inspiration from elsewhere

Amazon believed that it could repurpose its own systems for use by other companies, giving them the building blocks to grow without having to buy much hardware along the way. The NHS must follow suit and harness technology innovations across the health economy to thrive and grow. For example, gadgets such as fitness trackers, Amazon Alexa and virtual voice assistants are already transforming the health service and can greatly cut down the amount of paper needed to process patient requests and follow-up.

The need for data literacy and data analytics

Our own research shows that the ability to read, work, analyse and argue with data hasn’t gone unnoticed by employees in the health sector, with 57% saying they would invest more time into improving their data skillset. Healthcare organisations must lead the way in empowering employees to gain better insights from their data.

Further to this, healthcare trusts must turn to data analytics. Data analytics are now enabling forecasting for crises, challenge and change. Systems integration and information sharing can address headline-making problems such as bed shortages, ambulance response times and delayed or inaccurate diagnosis. Furthermore, providing staff with a 360° view of a patient’s medical history improves the effectiveness of follow-up care, experiences and outcomes across the entire service. Crucially, integration-facilitated, fully-informed decision making, as seen at our customer WWL, reduces inefficiencies and cuts costs.

Adopting a paperless approach is about injecting creativity and new ways of thinking into how NHS trusts are run and managed, rather than just investing in more technology for technology’s sake. A new era of the organisation will be defined and run by the intelligence gathered from integrated data analytics solutions. While the national narrative around the NHS has so often focused on the ‘pressure to do more with less’, data analytics will move the needle to measure the success of outcomes. Furthermore, smart data analytics and ethics management will transform the decision-making process, balancing risk and reward, to eradicate a plethora of problems and improve patient care paths.

A paperless NHS by 2020 is truly achievable if mindsets and approaches are changed now.




This article will appear in issue 7 of Health Europa Quarterly, which will be published in November 2018.


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