Alan Fowles is Senior Vice President of Nuance Healthcare International Sales & Operations


Will Electronic Patient Records be enough to improve patient care?

Amid a chronic funding crisis, a lack of resources for front-line staff, the contentious issue of GPs working weekends, over-stretched A&E departments and an ageing population, it is easy to lose sight of the promise of a better NHS as proposed by Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, in his ambitious 25 year vision.

In my opinion, however, there is good reason to remain optimistic about the future. In the plan, Mr Hunt stated: “I want the NHS to be a world class showcase of what innovation can achieve. Today’s plan sets out how we can give patients 21st century, personalised healthcare.”

From my perspective, the latter part of that sentence is worth exploring further if care is to be aligned effectively with patient expectations in the future, and if the NHS is to deliver “…21st century, personalised healthcare.” I believe that vision can become a reality with the move to Electronic Patient Records (EPR) playing a significant role in establishing the NHS as a world class showcase for healthcare.

If I have one concern about the deployment of EPRs, it’s the weight resting on their shoulders alone to drive much of the technology transformation that Mr Hunt is promising. It’s my belief that EPRs can only help the NHS achieve its healthcare goals if it reassess how patient records are created and maintained in order to ensure that clinical documentation is much more accurate and complete. There is no doubt that inaccurate and incomplete records – whether they are paper based or digital – remain detrimental and even damaging to patient care and treatment. If inaccurate and incomplete records are allowed to continue in the era of EPRs, it won’t be too long before misplaced dissatisfaction will be directed at the decision to move to the EPR model, which could then run the risk of being singled out as another expensive, high-profile, NHS technology failure. I make no apologies for stressing again that the accuracy and completeness of the patient record is – arguably – much more important than the format it is presented in.

Getting this right doesn’t just benefit patients. There are considerable economic benefits for trusts and departments in having the right information at the right time. For doctors and clinicians, detailed records mean that decisions – informed decisions – can be made in real-time, without needing to waste time and money searching for information or, worse still, making a time critical decision without all the facts to hand. 

Making a mistake or a bad decision based on poor information may have even more significant repercussions in the future. Tomorrow’s patients, the always switched on, always connected ‘millennials’, are likely to be more vocal online and among peers about their healthcare experiences than any generation of patients before them. The millennial generation’s consumer mindset means they may well have different expectations of the NHS in the future compared to those of patients in the past. Like consumer brands, which have had to adjust to using social networks and interacting with consumers through new channels, the NHS would do well to bear in mind the potential online ramifications of the millennials’ dissatisfaction.

As we move toward EPRs and a paperless NHS, now lies a positive opportunity for the NHS to reconsider how it captures the patient story to not just transform how it maintains and shares patient records in the digital era, but also to up the quality of the accuracy and completeness of Clinical Documents to an unprecedented level; a level that I believe will enable EPRs to realise their full potential.

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