5 June 2024 Articles

Opinion – Embracing Electronic Document Management in the NHS: More than Just a Digital Revolution

 

As someone who started working within the NHS at 16, specifically at London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust (LNWUH), I’ve witnessed first hand the transformative impact of implementing an Electronic Document Management (EDM) system. Initially tasked with preparing Medical Records for upcoming appointments, I gradually moved up the ranks to supervise a team, supporting the EDM project implementation, and finally administering the system which entailed auditing, configuration and build, and User Acceptance Testing.  This journey has given me a unique perspective on the profound changes EDM can bring, both operationally and culturally, to our healthcare system processes, and has helped me become the Consultant I am today within Apira. Within Apira I have been involved in numerous EDM projects from Business Case Development through to Deployment and documenting the benefits received and the Return on Investment for the Trusts.

Understanding the Value of EDM

An EDM is not merely a digital library for scanned paper Medical Records; it represents a significant leap forward in how we manage, access, and utilise patient information. When a record is digitised, it becomes instantly available to any authorised user within the Trust. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology allows for efficient searching of these documents, further enhancing operational efficiency. But the true value of EDM extends far beyond these initial benefits.

Implementing an EDM requires more than just deploying software. It is a complex logistical endeavour that requires meticulous planning and collaboration with professionally accredited scanning partners. At its peak, LNWUH managed over 1,500 files per day dispatched offsite for digitisation. Each record had to be tracked diligently to ensure visibility across the organisation, and a secure chain of custody process had to be established with the scanning partners.

Financial Benefits

The financial benefits of EDM are substantial. A full implementation of digitisation frees up valuable space previously occupied by corridors of shelving racks, allowing this prime real estate to be repurposed for other crucial needs within the Trust. This alone represents tens of millions of pounds in value across the NHS. Moreover, entire Medical Records departments, often staffed by over 100 personnel, can be redeployed to  other important roles within the organisation, helping to address the significant challenges of recruitment and retention in the NHS. This also provides development opportunities for those staff who are keen to learn and excel within the organisation

Operational Advantages

Operationally, the benefits are equally impressive.  The reduction in incident reporting is another critical advantage. Often, incident reports are created due to missing patients Medical Records, leading to appointments or surgery being cancelled. With digitised records available 24/7, this issue becomes a thing of the past, allowing multiple clinicians to access a patient’s record simultaneously and securely, thus improving patient care and reducing delays.

Time savings are another significant benefit. Tracking paper records across different departments and hospitals is a time-consuming and often inaccurate process. An EDM ensures that resources previously dedicated to locating records can be redirected to more urgent tasks. Additionally, data quality improves as misfiled documents can be easily corrected, and loose filing, often listed on risk registers, is eliminated, providing clinical teams with a complete patient history.

Development Opportunities

EDM projects also offer development opportunities for staff, enabling them to learn new skills and to potentially move to higher banding within the Trust.

Impact on Employee Wellbeing

There is also a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff. Medical Records departments are often located in less-than-ideal environments, such as basements with no direct sunlight and frequent building issues. The repetitive manual tasks in these departments also offer little opportunity for initiative. By freeing up space through EDM projects, teams can be relocated to better environments and new ways of working, enhancing job satisfaction and mental wellbeing.

Enhancing Business Continuity

EDM also enhances business continuity. In the event of an Electronic Patient Record (EPR) system outage, EDM can serve as a backup, ensuring that essential patient information remains accessible. Furthermore, the societal benefits align with NHS England’s goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2040. With digitised records, the need for couriers transporting physical documents across hospitals is eliminated, reducing the carbon footprint.

Medical Records underpin every clinical decision. Replacing paper with a digital solution enables rapid access to essential information from anywhere, minimising the risk of lost content. Search tools allow for quick retrieval of key information in complex patient histories, facilitating remote care and consultations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, EDM is much more than a digital project. It brings about logistical challenges and requires a substantial investment of time and resources. However, the benefits—financial,  operational and clinical, are undeniable. As someone who has been deeply involved in the implementation and administration of an EDM, I can attest to the transformative power of this technology in enhancing patient care and operational efficiency within the NHS.

To find out more about how Apira can support your Trust with EDM, please get in touch with  rory.dennis@apira.co.uk