NHS IT: the public sector outsourcing challenge
- Martyn Christian
- On August 26, 2011
(This column has been written by guest author Thomas Senger, Senior VP, EMEA Software and Solutions, Kofax.)
Efficiency savings are an integral part of the government’s future plans for the NHS, particularly in the face of coalition austerity measures. As such, the effective management of patient records is key to increasing productivity, cutting administrative costs and reducing patient waiting times. Timely access to accurate information is essential to the delivery of high quality healthcare. Furthermore, effective records management protects patient privacy and ensures that critical information is available when needed.
The healthcare industry has recently been striving for a holistic approach to health records. A complete EHR embraces this theory. Rather than tackling document capture via the individual department or clinician, there is a collective move toward a broader view of the subject. When electronic health records are used consistently across the healthcare spectrum by providers, insurers, regulators and patients themselves, the benefits become exponential.
The recent spate of ICO financial penalties highlights a problem faced by healthcare bodies throughout the UK.
Walk in to any government or private healthcare environment, and you are guaranteed to find piles of paper on the desks of employees. Each piece of paper represents a compliance risk. The notes your clinician makes after a general check-up will pass through the hands and across the desks of several personnel. Some paper-based communications can be ‘active’ for up to a year. That’s a lot of opportunity for breaches of security.
And yet, the avoidance of such risk and potential financial implications of penalties can be avoided through investment in capture technology that, put simply, takes paper out of the equation.
Not only that, but the best capture solutions give control back to organisations, limiting the number of employees with access to information. Combine that with the ability to audit and record who has accessed the data and risk is reduced yet again.
Of course, sensitive information often needs to be available across the geographic and organisational boundaries of a healthcare department, for example social services. The Victoria Climbie Inquiry in 2007 led to a recommendation that local authority agencies should be able to share records. The Electronic Social Care Record scheme (ESCR) was announced.
The ESCR dictates that multiple records for one patient must be stored centrally to create a ‘common view’. Today’s technology can provide the critical interface between paper and electronic records. A barcode on forms can make mistakes and security breaches almost impossible.
Public and private healthcare organisations constantly strive to contain costs but at the same time aim to provide superior medical treatment. Many have found that document capture software enables them to accomplish both goals. Document capture can cut medical processing time, reduce manual record-keeping and provide faster access to medical records.
An integrated EHR approach enables the capture of a variety of document types at high speed, extracting relevant data to meet the specific needs of the patient and their clinician.
Despite the demonstrable benefits, many healthcare providers are still mired in the manual, resource-heavy world of working with paper records. So can abandoning a national EHR project really be justified? If the networked approach of locally tailored systems is to have any hope of success, a document capture solution that can provide a standardised platform and integrate smoothly is going to be vital, helping to reduce costs without a causing a great deal of pain for the back-office staff.
The UK healthcare industry must recognise that it is simply not enough to scan paper and archive it at the end of a transaction with a patient. By capturing information electronically at the beginning of the process healthcare bodies can control and audit access. Investing public funds in this way, instead of enforcing penalties when things go wrong, is surely a better use of public money.
In austere times cost is a major consideration for healthcare IT managers. Regardless of size, healthcare bodies face similar information management issues and the key criteria in the EHR discussion – whether it is finally implemented on a local or national level – is centered around the benefits an integrated solution can bring; flexibility, compliance and return on investment.