The Department of Health’s report entitled Digital Strategy, together with the NHS’s own document, Digital First, set out ambitious plans for redesigning government services by going digital. By placing these services on-line, the hope is that they’ll be more convenient, straightforward and cost effective. Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, wants the NHS to be paperless by 2018.
One of the most ground-breaking plans is to put all medical records on-line, so that patients can gain access to these, via their smartphone, tablet or laptop. Using an app and specially designed digital platform, the goal for 2015 is to allow access to GP records, with data from hospitals, social care, community and mental health services to be uploaded three years later. But converting hard documents to on-line data and then managing that data, is a task of some magnitude, and it will be interesting to see if the Health Service can deliver on their promises.
Going digital will also mean that negative test results can be sent via SMS, which should mean patients know more quickly and can avoid making unnecessary follow-up appointments. Prescriptions could be electronic and go straight to a designated chemist, cutting out the need for a trip to the surgery. According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, who carried out a study reviewing the potential benefits, the NHS should save billions and health care professionals should have more time to spend with patients.
On-line Privacy & Security
With daily headlines about hacking, won’t patients be concerned about a third party seeing sensitive information? First of all, having medical records stored on a computer is nothing new; most doctors’ surgeries have been doing this for some time. As this will now be done a much larger scale, with data centrally accessed, the security log-in will be akin to on-line banking, which most people feel comfortable about using.
The success of this changeover rests to a great extent on the apps. Let’s hope the developers keep on top of updates and bug fixes. The patient will need to be able to check results, read letters from and to the GP, see if a referral has been made and print off information, as well as checking diagnoses and treatment. The NHS have said they’ll award ‘Kitemarks’ to those trusted apps that will help patients access the information and manage their health and wellbeing.
There is no doubt that a fully digitised NHS should help save time and money, plus improve patient care, however the goal of having every medical record on-line by 2015 seems ambitious.