The potential of a paperless and digital NHS by 2015

Tim Kelsey, National Director for Patients & Information at the NHS Commissioning Board Authority has announced the government’s commitment to a paperless NHS and a switch to digital communication by 2015.

The “Digital First” initiative was introduced by new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, at a recent Conservative conference. The aim is to transition to a safer digital system, which not only prevents the loss of records and information, but also reduces unnecessary face to face appointments between patients and healthcare professionals. Utimately, this makes healthcare more convenient and flexible for patients at a lower cost to the system.

The government’s aim is to modernize the NHS through technology with a £100 million technology fund. This fund is designed to help equip frontline staff with the tools necessary to cut down on administrative overhead and deliver better services for patients. This effort, Hunt explained, was a deliberate pivot away from the “top-down, bureaucratic procurement,” which has stifled technical innovation and improvements in the past.

There has been, however, mixed responses to the fund; it has been welcomed on for its funding of initial set up costs, but concern has been expressed at the fund’s failure to deliver the on-going (and often costly) IT support needed for the implementation and success of such technological innovations.

Patients Know Best have expertise in helping NHS departments manage the switch to digital services that improve patient care. PKB clients receive:

  1. A full suite of change management support for the teams involved in using Patients Know Best accounts with their patients
  2. Ongoing support for clinical templates, surveys or operability of the system for local teams and their patients
  3. New features every two weeks as we constantly upgrade the software based on feedback from users.

The transition to a digital system is welcomed change, as it enables the kind of data mobility that was difficult if not impossible to achieve with a paper-based system. For example, using Patients Know Best, the ability to send a patient’s revised care plan from Secondary to Primary Care setting can be done with a click of a button; patients in transition between services can easily share their personal health record with new clinicians with three clicks of a mouse, rather than waiting for referral letters, appointment scheduling and the frustration of repeating themselves in a new assessment clinic. These are just a few examples of many that are made possible by the fundamental shift to patient-controlled digital health records.

In addition, the switch to a digital and more technologically savvy NHS will open up many opportunities for integration and manipulation of data that were previously unimaginable. A new digital platform for data enables a whole new world of mobile applications (or Apps) desiged for specific patient populations, diseases or institutions. These mobile apps will allow specific data to be extracted from individual patients using their smartphone (potentially anywhere in the world) in a manner that is personal to them and provides specific data that clinicians and researchers are interested in. This is the beginning of personalized medicine. For example, Patients Know Best recently worked with one developer to create an app designed for young people with asthma to enter details of their peak flow measurements, the medications and their day-to-day symptoms. By using the application on top of PKB’s data platform, they were able to receive information about local air pollution and decision-making support about how to manage their asthma with their personalised care plans.

The potential for medical and clinical research when working digitally is really quite hard to fathom. For starters, we can start to think about integrating items of data that were previously impossible to connect. For example,working with our patients and their carers to capture biological, psychosocial and environmental data from patients in their communities in real time will allow us to analyze and drill down into our clinical services and better understand what works and what doesn’t.

The move to a paperless NHS needs to be more than an opportunity to transfer some of our offline activities to online activities through virtual clinics and basic sharing of digital data. This is a real opportunity, if not the signal opportunity of our time, for healthcare to move into the 21st century, where expertise of a specialist in a single disease is combined with the expertise of all the other specialists treating the other diseases the patient has. It is about the patient themselves being one of these experts. It is about the patient’s control fixing the health care system.

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