Digitization of the NHS by 2018 – Progress and Perspectives

The National Health Service (NHS), the publicly funded healthcare system in the UK, is moving ahead with its agenda to become paperless by 2018. The objective was put forward by the Secretary of State for Health Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt in January 2013 with the intention to save resources, improve services, and meet the challenges of an ageing population.

Responding to the government’s aim to go paperless by 2018, techUK (formerly called Intellect), the U.K’s technology trade association, stated that the success of this ambitious project depended on three key principles – data capture, data sharing, and using the information digitally or electronically. A year later, techUK assessed the progress made towards digitizing the NHS, saying that while success has been achieved in some areas, there are still several challenges that need to be addressed.

NHS Digitization Goals to be Achieved by 2018

* By March 2015, everyone can have online access to their own health records held by their GP

* GPs should adopt paperless referrals – for example, in order to refer a patient, they should use email instead of sending a letter to the hospital

* Hospitals should make information digitally and securely available

* Developing mechanisms for secure linking of EHRs, so as to create a complete record of the care a person receives

* There should be clear plans in place for electronic health and care records to be able to follow individuals, with their permission, to any part of the NHS or social care system

* By April 2018 – complete digitization of information, making it fully available across NHS and social care services, except for individuals opting out.

Path to a Paperless NHS

Here’s a look at techUK’s recommendations for a paperless NHS by 2018:

Digital Data Capture

Electronic Data Capture (EDC) systems provide a graphical user interface component for data entry, and can also validate and analyze the collected data. techUK recommends that information gathered by the healthcare professionals and patients should be stored in a digital format that can be processed and analyzed, rather than keeping it as digitized images. As far as possible, these activities should be automated and done in real-time. This will facilitate better care provision, medical billing, research, and more. Solutions available include:
* Automated capture of information via mobile devices, PCs, tablets, patient monitoring devices, medical record scanning, and so on
* Clinical and patient management systems
* ePrescribing/medicine management solutions
* Image capture, reporting and storage solutions

Sharing Data Digitally

One of the main aims of digitizing the NHS by 2018 is to share information between healthcare professionals, patients and caretakers across both health and social care settings. According to techUK, healthcare value can be maximized only if the users and buyers of healthcare solutions can communicate with each other. Lack of smooth communication can result in duplication of services and inappropriate medical decisions. The NHS has the following systems in place
* Network infrastructure that allows secure and rapid sharing of information
* Referral systems
* Portal technology for aggregation, access and sharing of existing information
* Facilities to move and share information between solutions
* Collaboration platform for health and care professionals
* Well defined open standards around interoperability
* Provision for information governance, security and quality

Last year, NHS engaged with suppliers and patients for planning patient’s access to their healthcare information via Personal Health Records. Efforts are on to ensure electronic access to primary healthcare data by 2018. techUK recommends that the Government should invest time in reassuring the general public and the NHS about the real benefits of data sharing. Other recommendations towards achieving the goals improved healthcare with digitization include:

– Better involvement of health and social care professionals and patients in the design of digital products and services
– Maintain investment of public and private funding to achieve the goal of a paperless NHS
– Seeing that digitization crosses the ‘boundaries’ between care the NHS and non-NHS organizations
– Demonstrate more willingness to interoperate and share data between systems

Improving Value in the U.S. Healthcare System

In the U.S., the healthcare system has adopted digitization in a big way. According to a Mckinsey report published in January, among other things, the priorities for providers should be to ensure consistent and comprehensive data capture and information sharing, continue the drive for the adoption and meaningful use of EMR, and facilitate better sharing of information within organizations and among authorized parties.