NHS at 75: digitizing to survive

stay home save lives

In an industry like healthcare, no one can dispute the benefits of digitization. From fast access to rapid aggregation of patient information leading to operational efficiencies and positive impacts on patient experiences – what’s not to like?

Research found that London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital reduced inpatient waiting times by 28 percent simply through integrating staff rotas, operating theatre timetables and pre-surgery tests into one portal that both clinical staff and administrators could access. Prior to this integration, medical procedures were booked unwittingly when surgeons were due to be on holiday, meaning theatre space stood empty because the patient hadn’t had their preoperative assessment, and no one had any idea how many people were on the waiting list.

If the benefits outweigh the negatives, why isn’t everyone doing it? For a start, the process of converting healthcare management to fully digital is not without challenges. Healthcare providers such as the NHS still use a significant volume of paper records, so it’s not as simple as a clean swap of one for the other. There is also the question of obtaining support from the public and gaining their trust for managing data digitally; this comes coupled with valid concerns about records being transmitted online and the potential for abuse or misuse of personal data.

For these reasons, a successful digital strategy needs to carefully integrate the management and digitization of paper records in a way that allows healthcare providers to move to digital working while still having easy access to physical records when required. It also needs to be executed in a manner that adheres to document and information integrity, data protection laws and patient privacy requirements.

The key for success here is finding the right partner who is well-versed in the management of both physical and digital documents to ensure a successful and compliant practice.

Optimizing healthcare efficiency

Within healthcare, paper records continue to play a vital role and likely will for many years to come. But that doesn’t mean organizations such as the NHS aren’t acutely seeking ways to streamline their operations by digitizing their records to free up space.

Take the example of the NHS Care Trust which is designed to bring together health and social care services to registered patients across the UK region. Initially, when NHS Care Trust formed it closed legacy buildings and moved staff into more efficient accommodation. At the same time, England’s Primary Care Trusts were being replaced by Clinical Commissioning Groups, which saw NHS Care Trust serve as a temporary custodian for thousands of patient records while the new organizations were being established. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a number of challenges that led NHS Care Trust looking at streamlining their data management.

This was no easy feat. The primary challenge was the sheer volume of physical paper records, which would result in significant storage costs for the NHS. This was combined with legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act, which meant correctly storing records became even more crucial.

In such a situation it’s essential to work with a partner that understands the management of both physical and digital records to ensure a successful and compliant practice.

A streamlined, secure and sustainable solution 

As a first step, documents from the Trust’s various departments were moved to a secure storage location and categorized according to source. Procurement codes were added to assist in both retrieval and allocating costs to different departments, and to improve response times. Document archives were split into active and inactive records, allowing for easy retrieval when necessary.

Next came the digitization component, where all of the active files were back-scanned into NHS Care Trust’s digital archive. This was complemented by a process workbook to ensure that the scanned documents would be admissible in court without the need to supply the original paper ones. To support the project for files still held in trust locations, NHS Care Trust’s local managers were provided with a toolkit that included categorization instructions, transmittal forms and duplicate bar-coded labels.

At the same time, non-active hard copy records were transferred to storage and supported by a project team with all records logged on our online portal from Iron Mountain, creating fail-safe electronic record documents held in storage and facilitating a swift retrieval process. Secure document destruction from central storage or NHS Care Trust’s 40 sites completed the process when required, using state-of-the-art shredding facilities.

Finally, our team also devised a BSI-compliant Scan-On-Demand service which would enable the trust’s handover of some responsibilities to another organization. A pilot was run first, using a fully secure online transfer process and a training program, and within two months, NHS Care Trust and other organizations were using Scan-On-Demand as standard.

Ultimately, the restructuring of Primary Care Trust records helped to streamline and ensure easy access to both physical records and digital patient information. Furthermore, by using a single service provider for their records, NHS Care Trust no longer had to search through different IT systems to find what they wanted.

“It’s all so much simpler now”, said one information governance manager. “We can also seamlessly share data with other organizations.”

Forget the AI hype for a second and you can see how the future of healthcare will mainly rely on digitization – and an emphasis on trust.