Although Jeremy Hunt has remained optimistic about the ‘paperless NHS’ target of 2020 set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View, it is a target scrutinised by many. Dominic Johnstone, head of information management services at Crown Records Management, says it’s time to admit the 2020 deadline for electronic patient records is in a bad state of health
As the NHS struggles towards a 2020 target for electronic patient records it may be time to ask whether the deadline itself is unhealthy. In a world where the amount of data is increasing exponentially, and demand for the health service is soaring, it’s easy to see why the government has been so anxious to modernise the way we keep records. But is such a tight deadline achievable – or even sensible?
Few people, whether patients or clinicians, truly believe paper-based systems are the best choice for the modern age; however, many hospitals and practices continue to rely on the old ways despite successive government campaigns to drag their systems into the 21st century.
Finding a solution is going to require compromise. The government wants the electronic patient record in place within three years. Can it happen? Well, it looks a serious challenge.
In an ideal world, people would instantly choose the more modern and efficient electronic patient record option. In the real world of resource limitations and legacy patient records – not to mention ingrained working practices – a simple switch over is unlikely.
Foundations for the future
It may also not be ideal because technology is moving so fast that further opportunities lie ahead. For example, in a future world where machines talk seamlessly to each other, an ambulance arriving on scene may have instant access to vital health information from a patient’s wearable technology – so simply turning paper records into digital records is only half the story.
Eventually doctors may be augmented by intelligent systems which bring a whole new set of processes and cultural challenges to healthcare worldwide but, before we get there, we need to rework the NHS and all the types of information it currently uses.
At the moment there is no single big bang technology fix available to digitise records quickly so recognising that those legacy systems and processes will be around for longer than most people would like is key.
Will we be paperless by 2020? It’s unlikely. It’s time to live in the real world and make paper and digital work seamlessly together – while preparing the NHS for the even greater changes which lie ahead.