Telling your story once

The NHS in England has announced further initiatives in its drive towards streamlining patient records. The National Innovation Board established by the Department of Health has set out bold new plans to move information off the page and onto the web by 2020.

The plans include a commitment to give everyone access to digital GP records by 2015 with other patient records including those kept at hospitals and clinics being online by 2018. The ‘Red Book’ which records details of a child’s developmental progress and vaccinations is expected to be replaced by a digital version by 2016, thereby enabling parents to view their children’s records at the touch of a button.

Commenting on the announcement Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt said “I want the NHS to be a world class showcase of what innovation can achieve” whilst Tim Kelsey, NHS National Informatics Director, said “We must embrace modern technology to help us lead healthier lives, and if we want – to take more control when are ill.” To this end the NHS is also planning to ‘kite mark’ certain apps which will help patients to access services and take more control of their own health.

Digitising patient records not only helps patients to take control of their own health, it also has major implications for health practitioners. Firstly, health practitioners will be able to quickly access a full patient history without having to wait around whilst records are located and physically transferred between departments or treatment centres. To a health system which is currently geared towards paper records this will have benefits both for speed of access and speed of treatment.

Equally importantly, with records to hand patients won’t have to go through their story over and over again; perhaps missing out vital elements in the telling. As a result there should be a better understanding of patient history, thereby leading to an improvement in treatment regimes and in outcomes. This is particularly important when it comes to areas such as physiotherapy where early treatment can make a measurable difference in a swift return to mobility.

From a pure practitioner perspective the digitising of patient records also helps to reduce unnecessary administration time.  Time taken in filing records, in retrieving records and in waiting for records to be walked or posted from one treatment centre to another is time which could be better spent on actually treating patients.  ‘Waiting for the records’ is a mantra which bedevils healthcare across both the NHS and private practice and it can lead to delays in treatment which would be better avoided.  The ability to sit with a patient and to see their history at the touch of a button will make a measurable difference to long term health care.

The announcement of these initiatives comments that “technology will play a vital role in helping contribute to the £22 billion in efficiency savings needed to sustain the NHS.” Whilst there is no doubt that these savings are welcome, the deployment of technology is not just about cost savings. Rather it is about improving patient lives and that is an ambition which we can all applaud.