It’s nearly a year since the NHS’s 70th birthday. Just as healthcare has become more complex over seven decades, so has the task of keeping patient records. What people tend to forget is that the NHS has been one of the nation’s most significant data generators, filling thousands of shelf miles with patient records. Longer lives and a greater range of conditions which can be treated also contribute to an increase in the average size of patient records.

Given this complexity, it’s no longer practical to rely entirely on paper documents to keep records of all consultations and interactions. But while delivering an effective, paperless NHS is a much-required service, it is also a massive task. Furthermore, digital engagement in the health service is often about less prosaic matters than patient records. We thought we’d have a look at progress towards a paperless NHS – and how CAS can help deliver it.

A paperless NHS is slow to take shape

Despite calls for a paperless NHS back in 2013 by then health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the service is far from completing its paperless journey. The NHS in common with many other organisations is finding that it simply might not be practical to eliminate paper entirely in a short timeframe. Paper is easy to work with for individuals, much as it’s complicated for an organisation’s ability to manage information. Many staff still prefer to make initial consultation notes on paper, or to read, analyse and edit particular parts of patient records in hard copy.

Indeed, 94% of NHS trusts are still using handwritten notes for patient records. The Parliament Street think tank sourced statistics from 68 NHS hospital trusts through Freedom of Information requests. Many of these trusts also cited a problem of lost records; up to 10,000 records a year couldn’t be found when they were needed for patient consultations.

Interestingly, GP surgeries led the way with digitisation as early as the 1980s. By the mid-2000s, all GP surgeries had switched to IT systems to record patient interactions with doctors and other healthcare professionals. Many surgeries have also now shifted to making appointments electronically. But it’s estimated that at least 70% of communication between GP surgeries and hospitals still takes place through the post. Despite GP surgeries leading the way on digital patient records, these letters get lost, or go missing when being shared by colleagues.

The CAS approach contributes to the goal of a paperless NHS

Rather than focusing on going immediately paper-free, NHS trusts should aim to get the balance right of using digitised documents alongside paper. There are definite advantages of a digitised system of patient records. It can enhance patient confidentiality, as data can be password-protected. Certain documents can be read-only, while meeting the need to share data between clinicians. Digital files take up less space, reducing costs for storing, searching, retrieving, reproducing or distributing documents. And scanned documents are searchable, while being future-proofed for developments in software.

This is where CAS can provide innovative solutions to managing patient records and other medical documents. We are experts in storing complex archives of paper documents in our warehouses, and providing digital versions of these documents when they’re needed. Our live file storage service utilises RFID systems to give NHS agencies an efficient way of getting the files they need on a daily basis even when they store patient records offsite. And with scan-on-demand, documents can be shared digitally only when they need to be, eliminating the need to digitise all documents in one go. What’s more, it’s easy to see audit trails, as anything that happened to a document is recorded electronically, whenever the document is accessed, printed, edited or deleted.

Longer-term aims for a paperless NHS

The NHS must ensure that its digital fund doesn’t focus solely on buying more laptops, desktops and smartphones. While these all generate data, if the data isn’t being captured and analysed, then it’s not the best use of investment. There needs to be a more standardised approach across all NHS trusts for how data can be effectively handled and analysed for greater patient outcomes.

The NHS could follow the corporate world in harnessing technological innovations across the health economy. For example, gadgets such as fitness trackers are already transforming the health service and can cut down the amount of paper needed to process patient requests and follow-up. A new era of the organisation should be defined by integrated data analytics solutions. In the meantime, CAS can improve how NHS trusts store and search their medical records archives.

Contact CAS today to find out about how we’re helping to deliver a paperless NHS

About CAS medical records storage services and the paperless NHS

CAS provides comprehensive and secure document digitisation, information storage and facilities management services. For more than 20 years, CAS has worked with NHS Trusts, Financial Services providers, and corporate and private clients. Our head office is just four miles from the City of London, supported by our advanced storage centres across the UK. CAS has an impressive array of International certifications (ISOs), which prove our compliance with the strictest national, European and international laws. They also demonstrate our commitment to provide innovative systems for security, confidentiality and quality control in keeping your files safe and well-managed.