By 2018, NHS trusts will need to be paperless, or, at the very least, paper-light. With a number of trusts still heavily paper based, concern is growing that this target is unattainable.
During last year's Autumn Statement, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced an extra £1.7 billion NHS funding to support and modernise the delivery of frontline care, plus an extra £1 billion over four years for new primary care infrastructure to make healthcare services more accessible. However, to access this funding, hospitals must provide assured plans showing how they will be more efficient and sustainable in the year ahead and deliver their commitment to a paperless NHS by 2018.
Despite the NHS representing one of the most digitally advanced and varied environments in the UK the humble pen and paper still retains its significance. Even in spite of the rapid advances in EPR, E-Prescribing and Clinical workflow systems, paper based records are still commonplace within the NHS.
Paper based systems can indeed be cumbersome and inefficient but they are not prone to some of the pitfalls that befall EPR and other clinical applications. Paper is, for example, not subject to downtime or availability issues, it doesn’t perform differently from one user to the next nor does it require a complex underlying infrastructure to deploy and support. Therefore we have to ensure that the system doing the replacing is in fact better than that which is being replaced. EPR systems, when deployed and provisioned correctly, can represent an enabler for drastic and lasting change within the NHS, as well as vast time and efficiency savings. They must, however, be absolutely 100% available, reliable and consistent in order to both smooth the journey away from paper and to justify that journey in the first place.
Change is painful, change is scary and change is unnecessary – these are our reservations as employees. So it falls to the CIO to ensure that the EPR system on offer to clinical staff represents a real and tangible asset to them, an asset that will make their working life simpler, that does not add additional complexities and administration time.
From a networking perspective then, what role can we play in solving this key issue facing the NHS in the UK?
Two technologies resonate in this space. First and foremost the Local Area Network. A resilient, robust and more importantly, ALWAYS available data network design will ensure that Clinical application delivery is seamless and consistent, no matter how or where clinical staff choose to access their applications. Whether it is via wired or wireless, or on a staff or corporate owned device – the end user experience has to be absolutely 100% consistent.
Secondly we can look to network based analytics technologies. Analytics here would allow IT organisations already in the throes of an EPR implementation to track adoption and clinical participation. We can see who is in fact using the new (and potentially very expensive) EPR application and who is firmly set in their ways and stubbornly holding on to paper based systems. We can also track the delivery of the application across the server and network infrastructure to ensure that it is being delivered to an acceptable standard, and historical and real time availability data would allow IT to quash any suggestion of poor performance from those potentially not embracing change.
For those trusts perhaps still working with legacy PAS systems and hoping to make the jump to EPR in the coming year’s, analytics can also play a key role in project planning. Analytics, in this instance, allow IT to make more informed and evidence based decisions around how they will deliver the new clinical application. If, for example, based on our analytics technologies, we understand that the majority of the clinical estate is using a particular OS on their personal devices, we may be more inclined to choose an EPR partner with a proven track record with that particular OS.
The paperless hospital will only be realised should EPR and other clinical applications be provisioned to such a standard that paper is deemed totally irrelevant by clinical staff. As well as the quality of the application itself, the underlying infrastructure utilised in order to deploy the application is paramount. Analytics too can play a major role in both the planning of any new EPR implementation as well as tracking and measuring its success once deployed. We must build our infrastructure under the assumption that any single period of unexpected downtime can potentially destroy faith in the new clinical system and send Clinicians running back to their notepads.
Business Development Manager