A new report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges challenges the NHS to improve electronic patient records.
Earlier this year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted the NHS to go paperless by 2018 – an ambitious goal, given that the National Programme for IT was dismantled around the same time and is widely considered to have been a costly failure.
To be sure, some NHS services were successfully digitised and a proportion of patient records are now stored electronically, but there’s still a long way to go before the health service can call itself paperless.
Now, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has published a detailed report on the challenges the NHS faces in setting up a comprehensive electronic patient records service.
Entitled ‘i-care: Information, Communication and Technology in the NHS’, the study puts forward seven key recommendations that, if followed, will "radically overhaul" the way trusts, hospitals and practices collect and share patient records.
According to the Academy, the healthcare system is fractured – NHS data is often stored across multiple sites in incompatible formats. Furthermore, it isn’t always focused on the patient – some records are focused on treatments, services and even illnesses rather than the individuals receiving care themselves.
In line with these findings, the report’s recommendations include a call for records’ structure and content to be standardised across the NHS.
The Academy also suggests that the quality of clinical data, and the ease with which it can be captured, must be "of paramount importance".
Terence Stephenson, Chairman of the Academy, commented: "If the NHS is to continually improve patient care and safety it is essential that we bring our IT and communication systems into the 21st century."
For any organisation looking to tackle the transition to paperless ways of working, making sure that data capture is standardised – and that the digitised version of each record is fit for purpose – should be the cornerstone of the project. This is sometimes easier said than done, though, especially when your paper records are decades old and aren’t necessarily uniform in the first place.
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