UK health secretary reveals plans for a ‘paperless NHS’
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary for the UK government, has announced a new plan to make the NHS almost entirely paperless by 2018, saving the government an estimated £5bn a year.
Under the scheme, back end processes will be near fully automated and patient’s medical records will be stored digitally, allowing access to be shared at the touch of a button between all parts of the health and social care services, from ambulance drivers to care workers.
The aim is to not only make the less critical functions of healthcare provision more efficient and user-friendly, but also to increase the quality of patient care.
"More importantly [than money] it can save billions of hours of time so nurses can spend more time with patients if they are not behind the nurses’ station trying to fill out forms, and I think it can save thousands of lives… The vision I'm thinking of is an ambulance driver answering a 999 call should be able to look up a patient's medical record on their way to their home, so they'll find out the person they are going to see is a diabetic who had two falls last year, who has a heart condition”, Hunt said.
According to a report by PwC, if even fuller digital plans are put in place, including innovations such as text alerts to patients of negative test results, another £4.4bn a year could be saved after costs, although the report does not spell these out.
However some concerns have been raised as to the plan’s scale and ambition. Notably, Readsoft, the global provider of software and services to businesses that want to better control and improve back office and administrative processes, commented that the physical presence of the technology may be off-putting to the patients, and may create logistical obstacles, for example when tablets and laptops need recharging. Also, Readsoft raised the issue of how to get historical, paper records and notes onto the new system.
Clearly, a project of this size requires a significant amount of planning and preparation, to ensure the smoothest transition possible to digital. The last thing this government and the NHS will want to do is repeat the mistakes of the last administration, where a new computer system costing £12.7bn was scrapped following technical difficulties and contract disputes.
In his statement, Hunt was sure to assert that “it's wrong to say technology is the panacea, but it can make a big, big difference… We need to earn the public's trust on this”.