Paperless NHS 2020 postponed: take the time to engage clinicians

Doctors talking

With the government’s acknowledgement that the Paperless NHS 2020 target will not be met, and the Wachter Report’s view that 2027 is more realistic, it’s worth taking a step back and trying to understand how we will know when we’ve achieved a state of paper-independence for England’s health service. Successive Health Secretaries have been vocal in challenging the NHS to be paperless, but have gone missing when it comes to defining what they mean by this.

So, what does “paperless” mean? How will we know when we’ve got there? And when we do get there, will all of our users be there with us?

The recent failure of the pathology system at a leading English hospital, and the consequences of having to rely on physical delivery of test results on paper, was a reminder of the impact that dependence on paper has on both healthcare providers and their patients. The provider processed information slowly, cancelled procedures, and delayed discharges.

Improving care

To improve care, staff members need instant access to information. Healthcare providers also need to become paper-independent in order to keep up with the increasing demands of an aging population.

After all, the goal of digital transformation “…is not digitisation for digitisation sake, but rather to improve the way care is delivered in the NHS, in part by using digital tools,” according to the Wachter Report on IT in the NHS.

We want to enable our clinicians to deliver better care to patients.

Digitising paper to increase information access

Enterprise content management (ECM) technologies are an essential component of any digital transformation. By replacing paper forms with electronic forms and digitising paper at the point at which it enters a process, ECM ensures that clinicians are fully equipped with the information they need in order to deliver excellent care.

While it’s easy to focus on the technology, we need to remember that successful projects are projects that engage their end-users. Otherwise, it’s “just the IT team imposing their new toys on us.”

Clinical engagement is tough to achieve. The rise of the Chief Clinical Information Officer role has made it more achievable. Having an individual who is deeply involved in day-to-day clinical activity and who works closely with the informatics team helps bridge the gap between the IT and clinical communities.

For technology providers, it is often easier to engage with the IT community than the clinical community. We speak the same language, and have a similar attitude to technology. This often reinforces the feeling that digital transformation is an IT project.

Engaging UK doctors and nurses for expert advice

As leading ECM providers, Hyland has always had a strong cohort of clinicians on the staff who are able to act as a bridge between our own technical community and the clinical communities at our customers. Earlier this year, we expanded that team with a number of UK doctors and nurses.

By enabling better clinical conversations, we can increase the levels of clinical engagement throughout projects, and even before a procurement project has begun.

The NHS’s “Paper Independence Day” has been postponed, but business cases still need to be written, processes need to be identified for improvement, finances need to be approved and solutions need to be procured and implemented.

The delay gives provider Trusts the opportunity to review whether they are taking a technology-centric approach, or whether and how they can engage their clinical staff to deliver improved service that does not rely on paper.

Steve Rudland

Steve Rudland

Steve Rudland has worked in the enterprise software industry since 1993, specialising in information sharing, process management, and collaboration technologies; specifically, their application in healthcare, social housing, and local government.... read more about: Steve Rudland

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