Now Is The Time For The NHS To Address The Perils Of Digital By Default

May 21, 2015

In the aftermath of the general election, Tony Pickering, head of enterprise solutions group at Ricoh UK explains how the NHS should address its goal of going paperless by 2018.

Much has been said about the future of the NHS, with terms such as ‘digital future’ and ‘paperless’ being attached to our national health service. But will reaching the goal of a paperless NHS by 2018 be truly achievable? The sheer volume of physical documentation and information the NHS stores on a daily basis is vast and will require a thorough audit as to what will be kept or lost during this digital changeover.

Make no mistake - it’s not just a simple case of document management here. All of the different papers are stored in different formats - from opposing types of forms to different sizes, to x-rays and even infamous doctors’ handwriting. All of these things will require a significant transformation as we move into the world of ‘digital by default’.

The linchpin of success for rolling-out digital solutions is to begin with a tiered approach. This should address the most time- intensive, least efficient processes within the system itself- building a solid foundation to start from, rather than attempting to solve everything in a ‘top-down’ approach.

To date, the abandoned flagship NHS patient record system has cost the taxpayer £10 billion. This an extremely costly example of why top-down IT implementation across the NHS is not fit for purpose.

The question is: how can the government improve process across our NHS?


Time To Set Goals And Map Out Processes

One of the main goals for the NHS must be to consider the major objectives it has been set by the government. These objectives may take the form of reducing A and E waiting times or cutting down on waiting lists. After this, it must also take stock of the entire process from start to finish before technology is even considered.


Don’t Settle For The Status Quo

In the UK, we need to move away from the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ frame of mind. The NHS cannot be adverse to change. Leaders within the health service must challenge how things are done and understand where the difficulties lie.

However, it’s more than just a case of behaviours and processes. A paper-light NHS can be achieved by leaders who provide clear advice as to what documents must exist moving forward.


Legacy Purchases: Time To Make Use Of Them

With the right partners in place, NHS trusts cam make the most of their previous investments. They can build on previous purchases and tweak the technology so that it is simpler to use, and more intuitive.


Keep It Simple

Any NHS trust must remember that keeping things a simple as possible is the key to success. Nurses, doctors and other hospital staff, and possibly even patients will make use of this new technology, so it’s imperative that it’s accessible and simple for all.

Replacing older, slow processes with the new is what ‘digitisation’ is all about. By helping staff to reduce their time on process-heavy tasks, they can turn their attention to support and patient care-bridging the gap between advancement and internal operations.


It’s All In The Measurement

NHS trusts must be fully prepared to tell the story of how ‘digitisation’ has resulted in a positive change for patients, doctors and staff. After all, making these improvements is essential for patient welfare, and clearly mapping how this has resulted in improved care will promote the trust as a beacon of best practice.



It’s time for the NHS to improve efficiencies through digitisation schemes. This ‘digital switchover’ will not happen overnight, but rather requires a thorough assessment of processes and what truly needs to be changed. Identifying the challenges from the get-go will ensure a smooth and seamless transition into the ‘paper-light’ NHS of the future.

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