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Anthony Pearlgood, Managing Director of PHS Data Solutions, looks at the role of automated document management processes in transitioning the NHS from paper-dependent to digitised operations.

Speaking at the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester last month, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the NHS needed to learn from the retail, banking and travel industries in cutting costs while improving customer service: “I believe that we have only barely scratched the surface of the technology revolution that is about to hit everything we do in healthcare and particularly everything that happens inside the NHS,” he said.

“The biggest myth that technology can help us to bust is this idea that, because of financial pressure, because of the ageing population, because of the huge challenges we face, we inevitably have to accept that our care will become less personal and less high quality than we have been used to.

Technology will help us do exactly the opposite, it will help make care more personal, more tailored, more in tune with our demands as an increasingly affluent and demanding population.”

These latest comments follow a revised Mandate between the Government and the NHS Commissioning Board published in late 2013 to ensure that, by 2015,

everyone will be able to book their GP appointments, order a repeat prescription and talk to their GP online.

Other records management and data handling initiatives include a £260million NHS England ‘Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards’ Technology Fund, which aims to support the move away from paper-based systems for patient notes and prescriptions towards integrated electronic care records and the development of e-prescribing and e-referral systems.

“Even where a full electronic system is implemented, the requirement to work with legacy paper records would still remain.”

In all, the motivating factors behind the digitisation of patient records include the key objectives to accelerating patient care, cutting waiting lists and enabling more straightforward information sharing between departments. Equally, the Government wants to prevent situations where patients have to repeat their medical history over and over again because the hospital does not have access to their records.

Realistically, however, even where a full electronic system is implemented for document and records management processes, the requirement to work with legacy paper records would still remain. As such, a ‘paper-lite’ system – using document scanning and classification technologies – can offer a less disruptive alternative for improving information management and help the NHS move forward in using


technology to deliver more efficient and flexible patient care.

The scanning aspect of the technology digitises paper documents, thereby eliminating the need to transport heavy, lengthy files around hospitals. Using easily-configured classification software to automatically read and classify paper records, clinicians and administrators can scan for specific correspondence or case areas within a specified timeline, saving time and increasing access to information on an ad-hoc basis.

If the solution is based on open standard technologies, the data can also easily be migrated at any future point. As such, this low-risk approach would be well-suited to Trusts piloting the use of scanning, or looking to make A&E administration more efficient, for instance, prior to carrying out an organisation-wide project.

A further advantage of implementing document classification alongside an archiving solution is that it also guarantees that the correct retention and disposal policy can be quickly identified and data cleansing can be carried out on existing records. This approach ensures compliance, while further increasing the level of process automation.

Those yet to implement a Trust-wide electronic document and records management system might look at starting with the introduction of a basic imaging and document retrieval system. In turn, this would allow completed documentation to be scanned, indexed from pre-printed barcodes and stored in a document repository for easy future retrieval.

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