Guest post by Darren Cassidy, managing director of Xerox U.K.

The state of the U.K.’s healthcare system is never far from the top of the news agenda. In the past few weeks alone we’ve seen stories ranging from the rising pressure on general practitioners (GPs) to increasing cuts for the National Health Service (NHS). Yet there’s one debate in particular that remains a sticking point: is the NHS ready to embrace its digital future?

It’s no secret that the Department of Health is pushing for the NHS to go paperless by 2018 –they have been doing so for two and a half years now.

The vision behind the push?

• A means to achieve billions in savings
• Improve healthcare services across the board
• And help meet the challenges presented by our aging population

All valid (and essential) motivations, but how achievable is the paperless healthcare system, really?

Benefits Beneath the Paper Pile
Stepping away from the NHS for a moment, we can see that the idea of paperless working environments has existed for nearly 40 years, yet during that time, the practice of printing has actually risen (1).

With the advent of new technology, the amount of paper we use at work – whether that’s in an office or hospital – may finally have started to fall. But it’s not doing so at any great rate.

Why? Whilst the idea of removing paper from key processes is a strategic aim for the NHS, the sheer volume of “paper data” makes it a daunting concept.

The key to overcoming this barrier is understanding that processes (while there may be a lot of them) can be automated. For example, digitizing patient notes can free up ward-time to focus on patient care, decisions can be made in a clinical environment to improve patient safety, and digital information can be made available in multiple places at one time.

Still, it can’t be denied that making this shift to digitize and transition paper-based processes is a lengthy and fairly complex one; a journey we’re still right at the beginning of, with many steps ahead.

Moving Forward, One Sheet at a Time
The key to success here lies in taking on the process one step at a time. Attempting to migrate all paper practices online at once is likely to result in more confusion and prove damaging to productivity. In many cases, it’s less about being completely paperless, and more about functioning with less paper.

A fundamental first step towards fulfilling the NHS’ less-paper goal, therefore, is to ensure the security and confidentiality of new digital documents. The provision of a secure managed print service – and the creation of digital repositories for patient information – can help achieve this.

At Xerox, we are working with parts of the NHS to achieve exactly that.

Take our recent contract win with the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), as an example. Having been awarded a three year agreement worth nearly $63 million, we are set to work with the NHSBSA to manage the secure printing of over 800 million prescription forms a year.

While initial roll-out looks solely at printing paper documents more efficiently, Xerox will also be responsible for assessing the way standard print documents are handled internally in order to identify new ways to transform the NHSBSA’s document supply chain. Where appropriate, this will include migrating processes to a digital format in order to support the NHS’ wider goal to achieve more digitization in years to come.

Leading by Example
Our contract with the NHSBSA is a marker in the journey of innovation within the NHS, a journey that we have already started with a number of NHS organisations including Luton and Dunstable University Hospital (L&D).

Over the course of the past several years, we have helped L&D to:

• Automate and simplify their business processes
• Move from paper-intensive legacy systems to completely digital, paperless workflows.

Now L&D boasts a complete electronic medical record system – having phased out some 300,000 paper medical records – with marked cost savings across the board.

This project shows exactly what the paperless NHS will look like when 2018 finally comes around.
Despite the fact that it’s still early days, smaller scale digital projects within the NHS are already underway –well ahead of the 2018 deadline. Judging by their successes it’s clear that the NHS can look forward to a more efficient, secure, clinical and paper-less patient environment.

1. Gartner, Forecast: Office Printed Page Volumes, Worldwide, 2011-2016