Digitising the NHS: Creating a single source of truth
Fri 7 Jul 2017 | Andrew Morrison
Andrew Morrison, managing director for Xerox UK and Ireland, discusses why creating a single shared system is critical to the ongoing progression of the NHS…
With the digitisation of the NHS in full swing, steady strides are being taken towards a paper-lite system. The recent ransomware cyber-attack, however, raises questions about the institution’s paperless ambitions. Does converting to digital increase security risk? And if so, can the NHS continue to reap the transformative power of data and technology without threatening patient information?
The temptation is to throw money at locking down the information held within the system. One priority, and the key to optimising the health system, however, is to unify how patient information is reported, stored, accessed and connected.
Current state of play
The main challenge lies in educating everyone – from care worker to clinician – on how to understand and manage information more effectively and securely using the cutting-edge technologies already in place.
Without organised, well-understood data, it is challenging for the NHS to provide digital services that complement public facing healthcare services. Myriad silos must be broken to allow everyone – including patients – access to the most accurate patient information.
How do you create one secure, accessible source of truth about an individual and their full health life cycle? To accomplish this requires more than standard records management. It requires a revolutionary approach.
Holistic record management
I recall a due diligence exercise that illuminated the particular challenge record management poses. When transposing data into a document management workflow, it quickly became apparent that there was no standard definition to qualify and create a consistent summary record of patient conditions.
Digitising historical records to provide a strong audit trail would improve visibility and lifecycle assessment
This lack of uniformity can waste time in the diagnosis and treatment process, or worse, cause a dangerous disconnect among interpretations of the data. Clinicians make judgements based on their experience, skills and knowledge. Throw in different cultures and geographies and it becomes a minefield of terminology.
Clearly, there needs to be greater flexibility in records management to allow for the different languages and idioms within the NHS system. But why not go one step further? As it stands, health records currently start at illness. To move away from this system of reactivity to one of proactivity, we need a holistic view of a patient’s life cycle. Combined with advanced analytics, this comprehensive data could enable health workers to improve diagnoses, choose the right treatment and prevent the likelihood of patients developing a chronic disease or condition.
Digitising historical records to provide a strong audit trail would improve visibility and lifecycle assessment of patient care needs and assist in assessment of future risk based on holistic information. More than an improvement to ‘health records management’, such a transformation would make holistic patient information easily accessible and enable the best possible care. It would have a profound effect on the overall quality of care.
The good news is that such an evolution doesn’t have to be a distant goal. Technology providers can help to make this a reality by capturing archive information, digitising it and converting it into a comprehensive record of a person’s entire health life cycle. Every time a healthcare professional meets with a patient, they will be able to add secure information to the patient’s overall record and make that information more accessible, complete and mobile.
This technology helps to create a single source, better informing both clinician and patient, crucial to the progression of the ongoing digital transformation. As the NHS CIO, Will Smart put it: “Our agenda is to be relentlessly patient-centred to make sure that we have the strong and correct clinical leadership and our job as CIOs is to stand aside patients and clinicians and actually deliver excellent technology to support that really important agenda.”