Comment: NHS IT specialist on the bid for a paperless health system

Orlando Agrippa, associate director of business informatics at Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, argues that creating a paperless NHS is achievable with the correct approach

Continuing our series of articles, ORLANDO AGRIPPA, associate director of business informatics (analytics) at Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust (CHUFT), argues that the challenge of creating a paperless NHS is achievable

Jeremy Hunt’s announcement earlier this year that the NHS should be making information digitally and securely available by 2014 shows that the Government is moving along the right lines with the right ambitions for the organisation.

We don’t need to complacently wait around for technology to improve to meet this challenge, but instead use the technologies available to us now to leapfrog our way closer to 2018

To make the best decisions for patients, the NHS needs to be able to harness vast quantities of data to provide information and insight through appropriate analysis, and learn from trends and patterns in order to provide the most effective care, while ensuring privacy controls are in place to protect the patient.

I see a paperless NHS challenge as one that requires simple solutions; solutions that everyone can relate to, and without this sort of thorough process the task is virtually impossible.

We also don’t need to complacently wait around for technology to improve to meet this challenge, but instead use the technologies available to us now to leapfrog our way closer to 2018. We have all the things we need to get this done, we just need to mobilise the troops and deliver more visibility for better patient care.

At CHUFT we started providing visibility to frontline staff 18 months ago by deploying a number of business discovery applications. We use the QlikView Business Biscovery platform from QlikTech, or the ‘high-powered speed boat’ as I like to call it, and the trust has already changed dramatically. Like most organisations in the NHS currently, before installing QlikView we were lagging behind when it came to digitising all our systems.

If no one can stop NHS staff being set in their ways, then a paperless NHS could be something of a pipe dream

Hunt has said that he wants the NHS to be in a position where staff will have access to health records instantly, with clinical staff being able to access their information at the click of a button.

So what else is stopping other NHS trusts from achieving this.

I have spent the past decade working with a number of healthcare organisations across the country to try and address the digital NHS challenge through the development, implementation and integration of business intelligence solutions. And yet, in most places, my efforts towards progression have been made extremely challenging by two major brick walls. Firstly, many staff struggle to find the time needed to properly use technology to truly gather intelligence from their data. Secondly, they are wary about taking on the challenge of using the data itself and, as a result, shy away from the change.

A fresh approach to technology needs to be encouraged and a lot of people within the NHS are unfortunately holding back the utilisation of existing technology. To drive the paperless shift, you need to have the right people on board to get behind it. There needs to be a general push on hiring the right people to instigate the change across the organisation. These people should be innovative and bring a fresh mind to what is currently an archaic system. If no one can stop NHS staff being set in their ways, then a paperless NHS could be something of a pipe dream.

There needs to be a general push on hiring the right people to instigate the change across the organisation. These people should be innovative and bring a fresh mind to what is currently an archaic system

Also, the technology needs to be intuitive and simple enough for anyone to be able use it. It needs to provide easy-to-understand analysis in two clicks. A good example of this is a Google search box, which most people can easily use to find results without training. Staff need to be able to have intuitive, easy-to-use, but powerful analysis at their fingertips if they are to get the insights to help deliver better outcomes for patients and drive up productivity, performance and efficiencies.

Ultimately, the shift to a paperless environment should be encouraged because of the truly tangible benefits. It is a case of taking a leap and making that initial investment so in the longrun the organisation can start to analyse data.

Our trust has been using existing intelligence to deliver efficiencies by providing more visibility and instant interrogation of disparate and large datasets to its clinical, operations, finance and commissioning teams. The most important thing is that we drive efficiencies, while ensuring better outcomes for patients.

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