Originally published on InContext, a Lexmark website. 

paperless-nhs“Is a paperless National Health Service (NHS) by 2020 feasible?” was the question asked during a panel discussion at UK e-Health Week at London’s Olympia. The answer? “Yes…but.”

The panellists, including three NHS chief clinical information officers (CCIO), a trainee anaesthetist, and vendor representatives, all agree on the importance of digitising clinical information. They also agree the NHS still needs to make large strides in the next four years to get there.

A CCIO on the panel warned organisations to take care as they go digital, so they don’t turn the relationship between clinician and patient, which is currently a narrative, into fragmented pieces of data.

Another CCIO made the point that access to funding is a major challenge to achieving a paperless NHS. She said executives need to provide leadership to prioritize competing initiatives. She went on to say there is currently a duplication of efforts across the systems largely due to traditional competiveness. She said the NHS needs to pool resources to work collaboratively with vendors instead of living in silos.

The vendor representatives provided practical lessons learned while assisting organizations to go paperless.

Dominic Kirkman, International Manager of Pre-Sales Engineering at Lexmark Healthcare, stressed the importance of thinking about the transition to paperless. “It may not be a big bang approach. You might start by capturing information on paper then scanning that paper to capture the information digitally. You can still achieve many of the benefits of going digital without going through large scale changes,” he said. “The NHS needs to look within the system at areas that already have electronic workflows. Also, you can look across Europe at places like the Nordics and the Netherlands. These places have already overcome some of the challenges facing the NHS and we should learn from them.”

Vendors need to play their part in getting to a paperless NHS by 2020, according to Graham King, Solution Architect at Lexmark Healthcare. “Vendors should develop systems that are easy to pick up by clinicians. And organisations need to look for vendors that have a modular approach to going digital. That way you can start on a foundation and then build with modules over time.”

To finish up the session, each panellist summarised the most important considerations for achieving a paperless NHS by 2020:

  • Insist on standards and interoperability from vendors. Learn from organisations that are focused on standards like Health & Social
  • Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise UK (IHE-UK)
  • Develop strong clinical and executive leadership
  • Work together across national, regional and local organizations and build partnerships with vendors
  • Treat Healthcare IT as a utility within the organisation, just like water or electricity
  • Make sure the people who implement systems get all the support they need to get the last five yards between the desk and the patient correct, or else all the other investment will come to nothing
  • Develop a very clear strategy for what your organization wants to achieve, and stick to that strategy

By taking these considerations seriously and working with the right vendors to implement digital processes, the expert panellists at this year’s UK e-Health Week believe the answer to “Was the National NHS able to go paperless by 2020?” will be a resounding “yes” – no buts about it.

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