Digitising to Survive: The Future of Healthcare

In an industry like healthcare, no one can dispute the benefits of digitisation. From fast access to rapid aggregation of patient information leading to operational efficiencies and positive impacts on patient experiences – what’s not to like?

Research found that London’s Chelsea and Westminster hospital reduced inpatient waiting times by 28 percent simply through integrating staff rotas, operating theatre timetables and pre-surgery tests into one portal that both clinical staff and administrators could access. Prior to this integration, medical procedures were booked unwittingly when surgeons were due to be on holiday, theatre space stood empty because the patient hadn’t had their preoperative assessment, and no one had any idea how many people were on the waiting list.

If the benefits outweigh the negatives, why isn’t everyone doing it? For a start, the process of converting healthcare management to fully digital is not without challenges. Healthcare providers such as the NHS still use a significant volume of paper records, so it’s not as simple as a clean swap of one for the other. There is also the question of obtaining support from the public and gaining their trust for managing data digitally; coupled with valid concerns about records being transmitted online and the potential for abuse or misuse of personal data.

For these reasons, a successful digital healthcare strategy needs to carefully integrate the management and digitisation of paper records in a way that allows healthcare providers to move to digital working while still having easy access to physical records when required. It also needs to be executed in a manner that adheres to document and information integrity, data protection laws and patient privacy requirements.

The key for success here is finding the right partner who is well-versed in the management of both physical and digital documents to ensure a successful and compliant practice.

Optimising healthcare efficiency

Within healthcare, paper records continue to play a vital role and likely will for many years to come. But that doesn’t mean healthcare organisations such as the NHS aren’t acutely seeking ways to streamline their operations through the digitisation of their records to free up space.

Take the example of the NHS Care Trust which is designed to bring together health and social care services to registered patients across the UK region. Initially, when the Trust formed it closed legacy buildings and moved staff into more efficient accommodation. At the same time, England’s Primary Care Trusts were being replaced by Clinical Commissioning Groups, which saw the Trust serve as a temporary custodian for thousands of patient records while the new organisations were being established. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a number of challenges that led the Trust looking at streamlining their data management.

This was no easy feat. The primary challenge was the sheer volume of physical paper records, which would result in significant storage costs for the NHS. This was combined with legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act, which meant correctly storing records became even more crucial.

In such a situation it’s essential to work with a partner that understands the management of both physical and digital records to ensure a successful and compliant practice.

A streamlined, secure, and sustainable solution

As a first step, documents from the Trust’s various departments were moved to a secure storage location and categorised according to source. Procurement codes were added to assist in both retrieval and allocating costs to different departments, and to improve response times. Document archives were split into active and inactive records, allowing for easy retrieval when necessary.

Next came the digitisation component, where all of the active healthcare files were back-scanned into the Trust’s digital archive. This was complemented by a process workbook to ensure that the scanned documents would be admissible in court without the need to supply the original paper ones. To support the project for files still held on Trust locations, the Trust’s local managers were provided with a toolkit that included categorisation instructions, transmittal forms and duplicate bar-coded labels.

At the same time, non-active hard copy records were transferred to storage, and supported by a project team with all records logged on the Iron Mountain Connect™ online portal creating a fail-safe electronic record documents held in storage and facilitating a swift retrieval process. Secure document destruction from central storage or the Trust’s 40 sites completed the process when required, using state-of-the-art shredding facilities.

Finally, Iron Mountain also devised a BSI-compliant Scan-On-Demand service which would enable the Trust’s handover of some responsibilities to another organisation. A pilot was run first, using a fully secure online transfer process and a training programme, and within two months, the Trust and other organisations were using Scan-On-Demand as standard.

Ultimately, the restructuring of Primary Care Trust records helped to streamline and ensure easy access to both physical records and digital patient information. Furthermore, by using a single service provider for their records, the Trust no longer had to search through different IT systems to find what they wanted.

“It’s all so much simpler now”, said one Information Governance Manager. “We can also seamlessly share data with other organisations. These days, everything is just so much more efficient!”

By Simon McNair, Head of Public Sector, UK&I, Iron Mountain

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