Headlines: January 18th, 2013

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has challenged the NHS to go paperless by 2018 to save billions, improve services and help meet the challenges of an ageing population. Patients should have compatible digital records so their health information can follow them around the health and social care system.

This means that in the vast majority of cases, whether a patient needs a GP, hospital or a care home, the professionals involved in their care can see their history at the touch of a button and share crucial information.

A Price Waterhouse Coopers study reviewing the potential benefits of better use of information and technology found that measures such as more use of text messages for negative test results, electronic prescribing and electronic patient records could improve care, allow health professionals to spend more time with patients and save billions.

Another report on National Mobile Health Worker describes a pilot study on introducing laptops at 11 NHS sites and details the scope for improved services and cost savings.

Within two years everyone who wishes will be able to get online access to their own health records held by their GP. Paperless referrals will also be introduced so that instead of sending a letter when referring a patient to hospital, the GP will send an email instead. By this time clear plans will be in place to enable secure linking of these electronic health and care records wherever they are held, so there is as complete a record as possible of the care someone receives.

The overall aim is that within five years digital information will be fully available across NHS and social care services.

The NHS Commissioning Board is leading implementation and it has set a clear expectation that hospitals should plan to make information digitally and securely available by 2014/15. This means that different professionals involved in one person’s care can start to safely share information on their treatment.

Jeremy Hunt said: “The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution. It is crazy that ambulance drivers cannot access a full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records.

“Previous attempts to crack this became a top down project akin to building an aircraft carrier. We need to learn those lessons and in particular avoid the pitfalls of a hugely complex, centrally specified approach.

“Only with world class information systems will the NHS deliver world class care.”