Lack of mobile technology hampering transition to 'paperless NHS'

By Danny Palmer
11 Dec 2013 View Comments
Nurses doing administrative work

Despite government plans to make a 'paperless NHS' by 2018, most medical staff still rely on handwritten notes and word of mouth communication in order to share information.

That's according to data obtained in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by wireless technology company Spectralink, which reveals that with less than five years until the deadline for creating a paperless NHS, nearly two-thirds of medical professionals still rely on old-style documents, and pen and paper.

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The FOI request revealed that 61 per cent of nurses still use handwritten notes, charts or verbal communication to share patient details, medication notes and discharge instructions.

Meanwhile, 34 per cent use electronic records to capture some patient details, but they can't be accessed on the ward floor due to the need to access them through a desktop terminal.

The figures are based on responses from more than 100 NHS trusts and none had any sort of mechanisms in place to check how long doctors and nurses need to spend checking information and replying to messages on a daily basis.

Previous research suggested that 45 minutes per day is wasted on these activities, time which could be used helping patients. The implantation of a paperless NHS is intended to cut costs by allowing staff more time to aid patients and the ability to do so in a quicker and more efficient manner. Digital records are also designed to cut errors when important patient information is being shared

"Nurses and other healthcare professionals play a critical role in our everyday lives and should spend the bulk of their time focused on delivering exceptional patient care," said Simon Watson, Director at Spectralink, the organisation which made the FOI request.

"However, we frequently see these highly-trained professionals spending far too much time on administrative tasks and being forced to use inefficient communication methods because they are not given the tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently," he continued.

"There seems to be a disconnect between the antiquated technology they have to work with and the expectation of them to deliver life-saving services. This leads to considerable frustration and additional work pressure for care-givers who clearly see the need for improvement."

Watson added that going paperless will ultimately be a positive move for both the NHS and its patients, but it needs to be managed in the correct manner.

"We believe the move to a paperless NHS is the right one for the UK healthcare system, but clearly there are still barriers to this transition. With the right tools and technologies, doctors and nurses can have instant access to the patient data they need to make the best decisions for the patient," he said.

Last month, the vast majority of NHS Trusts revealed that they were expecting additional funds in order to help the transition to a paperless NHS.

The request was answered earlier this week with the launch of the £100m ‘Nursing Technology Fund,' designed to fund mobile and digital technology to allow nursing, midwifery and care staff to work more flexibly and effectively.

Nurses and midwives chose their profession because they wanted to spend time caring for patients, not filling out paperwork. New technology can make that happen. It's better for patients too, who will get swifter information, safer care and more face-to-face time with NHS staff," said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

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