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This isn’t a healthcare record, this is Mrs Smith

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

When you think about a sector that might have the hardest path to digital transformation, the NHS and the massive amounts of records it holds on patients in the UK definitely springs to mind. But we shouldn’t simply be thinking about this as an exercise in going paperless. An ageing population, the growing burden of chronic diseases and increasing patient expectations for high quality treatments and end-to-end patient management, mean that there is more pressure than ever on the NHS and healthcare organisations in terms of workloads, administration and patient demands. The need for digital transformation in the sector, including a more streamlined and human-centric approach to patient data, has never been more important.

The stack of paper that documents every interaction with the NHS from a vaccine in infancy, a visit to the GP, birth of a child or healthcare problems encountered in old age, aren't simply a healthcare record, but a history of the good - and sometimes bad times - of someone’s life – they are no longer just a patient’s medical record but a history of Mrs. Smith’s life, and it should be treated as such. Patients are demanding convenience, efficiency and a more personalised healthcare experience that better fits their lives today. For example, where GP appointments can be booked online, and the multiple healthcare providers that they see can access their complete medical history at a glance. By providing better ease and consistency, potential issues such as a patient's healthcare data or history falling through the cracks as it is shared between clinicians, which could hinder healthcare decisions, could be avoided.

Patient data needs to be patient-centred to ensure it’s useful, so this should be front of mind as the NHS works to take this stack of paper and create a digital version of it - not just ticking a box to say we have electronic health records. Healthcare organisations need to treat patient data as a strategic asset that can be linked and analysed, to provide better insights for healthcare decision making.

Healthcare providers have recognised there is a need to address these challenges with high priority - a 2018 study from the SAP Centre for Business Insight and Oxford Economics, Digital Transformation in Healthcare: A Positive Prognosis, found that healthcare leaders ranked digital transformation as critical for future success; However, the study found that few were yet to be digitally mature, with just two per cent having completed their digital transformation initiatives across all areas. 

Coupled with this, more stringent regulations governing patient data management and quality of care provisions provide further challenges in the NHS' journey to digital transformation, with the need for digital patient data to be kept secure and confidential being critical.

Providing a 360-degree view of patient data

In response to this challenge, NHS healthcare providers are working to fundamentally redefine healthcare delivery. New healthcare models will need to rely on a 360-degree view of patient information that is securely available, anytime and anywhere.

This digital transformation of healthcare organisations will enable new services, transform the patient experience, optimise operating models and orchestrate internal and external resources to improve patient outcomes. As such, healthcare organisations will need to evolve towards an architecture and IT environment that enables them to easily leverage the value of patient data across systems and rapidly develop, change and deploy patient-centred clinical and administrative workflows.

To ensure organisations are taking a human approach to patient data, including providing a personalised patient experience, they should make sure that they have the following processes and tools in place across disease prevention, through to patient care and diseases management:

  • A content management platform that ensures patient data isn’t fragmented across systems, preventing healthcare providers from getting a complete picture. Care should be delivered in a seamless fashion, through integration and coordination, to effectively share information between providers and further build the patient’s relationship with the healthcare team that consistently provides care for the patient over time.
  • Automation tools to improve the continuum of care and move patients quickly and smoothly through the procedure processes. Using automation, Electronic Health Record (ECR) support can enhance the level of commonality and interoperability of patient medical record information, making it available at all patient encounters.
  • An image archive that enables disparate medical images to be stored and accessed from one repository. Mobile computing can also provide healthcare organisations with new tools for collaboration that improves the way patients and professionals communicate in real-time. Using this approach, healthcare professionals can make diagnostic decisions regardless of the location or device they are working from. This can also enable patients to access their own records and communicate with care-givers at any given time.
  • Provide digitally coordinated treatments across multiple care providers with the security required to safeguard patient information. Healthcare organisations must ensure efficient and secure distribution of the entire patient record across providers. Critical and sensitive information should be kept secure and care pathways auditable - these standards will enable data integration into providers’ workflow at the point of care, supporting evidence-based medicine.

As an example of a healthcare organisation that is taking a human approach to patient data, the Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust recently attained the highest result among NHS Trusts for its level of infrastructure and state of digital readiness, following the implementation of supported e-forms.

Prior to this solution, nurses in the hospital were responding to emergency telephone calls and relied on completing handwritten paper triage forms as a record of the call. As a result, patients could be advised to attend emergency consultations which may have been unnecessary and consequently, there was a potentially delayed pathway as clinicians were unable to quickly see the data collected prior to the patient’s arrival. To overcome this issue, Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust with Alfresco to implement a Business Process Management (BPM) system that integrated with a clinical portal and process automation engine with flexible and user-friendly tools, to create custom e-forms. These e-forms supported a consistent, thorough and safe triage system, which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of unnecessary admissions to the Emergency Room. Patient interactions are now much more individualised because the system prompts staff to collect and share the right information based on the patient’s unique situation.

The future outlook

With the healthcare system in the UK evolving from an acute hospital-centric model, to a patient-centric model, digital transformation initiatives will not succeed unless healthcare organisations adopt an end to end ‘data first, patient first’ approach. This transformation will drive a greater degree of collaboration across providers and other health stakeholders to design and manage clinical pathways that optimise the quality of outcomes for individual patients.

By integrating content management technology with their existing patient administration platforms, electronic health records and patient portals, healthcare providers can successfully enhance collaboration across clinical departments within a hospital or with external parties. This includes efficiently and securely managing the growing number of medical images and automating clinical processes. Remote monitoring medical devices and consumer wearable devices will further expand the range of digital use-cases and data produced in future patient-provider collaboration.

Paul Hampton, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Alfresco