The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) has been around since 1948 and according to the NHS’s own historians, it was “born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth.” Essentially, this is free healthcare that’s available to the entire population regardless of income, previous health conditions, race, gender, etc. There are no monthly insurance premiums to worry about, no spurious medical bills to query and haggle over, and no concerns about medical affordability. It is supposed to be the ideal medical system that makes other countries – and their citizens – envious but the service is, itself, in need of aid.
Theoretically, it’s one of those public sector services that is putting the “Great” in Great Britain. Alas however, the reality, it seems, is quite different. The NHS needs more than aid: it is broken and is plagued with problems with outdated systems, aging buildings, immense labour costs, an overload of patients, and an abundance of paper-based patient records. Just to stay within budget requires the NHS to shed £20Bn in costs, something that senior NHS managers say, today, is just not possible.
Over the summer months the NHS celebrated its sixty-fifth anniversary generating much public support from Britain’s politicians with the Prime Minister – David Cameron – stating that “there is a lot to celebrate about this wonderful institution” despite the obvious “pressures and problems.” Indeed there is. And at the same time, Dr. Mark Porter – the current Council Chair of the British Medical Association – applauded the NHS as being “one of the greatest achievements of civilization” and that it is the country’s “duty to continue that to the 100th anniversary.”
While this blog is not aimed at attacking the NHS, it does intend on highlighting one area of major concern that is contributing to an inefficient system that is breaking at the seams: IT.
Patients of the National Health Service seek reassurance each time they visit a doctor or medical establishment that they are understood, their problems are clear, and that their history is known. This history includes medical and health issues alongside remedies, treatments, surgeries, and prescriptions. No patient wants to have to repeat their life-long medical history every time they meet a new medical practitioner yet this is often what happens because the majority of patient records are still paper-based. Yes, it’s 2013 and paper dominates the National Health Service. Some local medical establishments and NHS Trusts have indeed ventured down the road to transitioning from paper to electronic patient records but it’s not a widespread adoption. The very project that was commissioned in 2011 to provide patients with individual computerised records has been abandoned at a cost to the UK taxpayer of at least £10Bn.
And it doesn’t stop there either. The costs for introducing paperless prescriptions – which is a separate initiative – are already spiraling from the original £250M to a new budget of £500M. Whether that project is ever completed or is culled for the sake of saving money is yet to be seen.
But what’s our point?
Transformation projects of this nature are big business for all of the IT consultants, systems integrators, and software vendors who are involved. There are big budgets at stake with big investments but that doesn’t mean that costs are meaningless numbers on a spreadsheet because behind all of this are the patients who need help and accurate patient records.
Today, if a prescription is prescribed or a doctor makes notes, it’s often annotated on paper and this is a risk: this data is easily lost or misplaced. The next time the patient’s notes are referred to, important information may be missing leading to repetitive discussions and, in the worst case, an incorrect decision.
Independent products such as Observato exist to manage the changes in such an immense amount of data so if a doctor changes a prescription or make comments about their suspicions, it’s all there, tracked in the database. There’s no confusion, no ambiguity, and no risk to the patient’s well-being. And none of this needs to cost £10Bn either!
It’s time the NHS was given a break so it can do what it does best: looking after patients.