Paperless or paper-light records management can deliver many benefits beyond saving cabinet space
It’s not news that many organisations are progressing their digital strategies and considering migrating their mission-critical systems, such as records management, to the cloud. But other organisations appear to be reluctant to do so. Why is this?
During the pandemic, many organisations have, perhaps understandably, been focused on other priorities such as enabling remote working or maintaining the wellbeing of employees. Some senior decision-makers clearly feel they are too busy to consider digitisation and cloud migration just now, or that they don’t have the resources, skills or money.
The paradox here is that both digitisation and moving to the cloud saves resources. Digitisation enables sharing. The cloud enables more flexible working practices, allowing employees to work any time, at any place. IT resources can be minimised, with cloud service companies providing and maintaining networking infrastructure. These business efficiencies can quickly generate a positive return, meaning that monetary savings can be made, even in the short term.
Benefits of digital transformation
It’s clear that digital transformation can save money. By increasing efficiency, infrastructure and staffing costs can be reduced. For example, in a (small) project to create an electronic medical records system (EMR) for Papworth Hospital, project costs – including software, support, scanners, and project management were less than the annual cost of physical paper records storage and management, thereby freeing up much needed financial resources for frontline patient care such as additional operating theatres, nurses, etc.
But digital transformation isn’t just about saving money. It’s also about time efficiency and, importantly, quality. Digitised systems in medicine, for instance, enable health professionals to locate information far more rapidly than they would using paper documents. IT also allows them access to this information wherever they are, enabling them to participate in managing an emergency even from home when they are off duty.
In addition, the quality of information is increased when data can simply be duplicated from one document to another, without the need for re-keying. With re-keying errors of around 3 per cent on average in a health context, it’s obvious how digitisation can increase safety.
Digitising records management
One area where the cloud has proved invaluable is records management. Paper records can be expensive to store and maintain, hard to access (especially if they are stored offsite, as often happens when they get too large to be stored on the premises), and prone to getting lost, or even accidentally destroyed. Digital records are much cheaper to store as well as being far easier to access.
More importantly, digital records have considerable added value compared with paper files. Paper documents can be scanned and turned into digital text, which can then be searched and edited. This is an enormous advantage to anyone needing to trawl through large quantities of documents. Lawyers and healthcare professionals can benefit greatly from this facility.
Even where documents are handwritten, there can be benefits to scanning them beyond having easy access or saving storage space. Handwritten documents often take the form of handwriting on a pre-printed document. The pre-printed parts of the form can be subjected to character recognition and valuable data (such as the type of document or the headings of the sections within it) captured. The document itself can also be briefly described before scanning as a way of capturing extra information. And in a file of many documents, there are often tabbed sections that divide the file up into sections: these tabs can be recorded as a helpful index to the file’s contents.
All of this leads to real benefits for patient safety and patient care. Digital records mean that critical patient information can be accessed rapidly and from anywhere, not just in a particular clinical setting. It’s much harder for records to get lost through misfiling. And it’s easier for clinicians to find the information they require. In addition, because digitisation reduces the amount of data re-keying that is needed, digitised records are more accurate.
It’s also important to consider how stored digitised documents may be used in the future. In some cases, documents may be required for legal purposes. Scans of documents can be legally admissible, and the BS 10008 Standard helps you verify and authenticate all your information to avoid the legal pitfalls of information storage and outlines best practice for transferring electronic information between systems and migrating paper records to digital files.
Legacy records or new documents?
Whether or not most of an organisation’s existing documents are handwritten or typed, there is a powerful argument for digitising record processes in the future by moving to a paperless or paper-light documents policy. Professionals who are too busy to type up documents can have them typed separately and input as digital documents. It is even possible for them to be dictated and automatically transcribed into a digitised document by voice recognition systems. This means that documents would be available immediately.
While it is not difficult to get started with paperless strategy, it isn’t something that can simply be switched on. For example, information management specialist CCube spends eight to 10 weeks with client teams prior to starting the implementation phase of a new digital documents project. This enables appropriate planning to be put into place so that everyone knows what to expect. Involving end-users in the system planning generally means they are more likely to engage with it positively.
In 2014, a new state-of-the-art hospital was opened in Southmead, Bristol. This major hospital was soon requiring 1,000 paper patient records (from a total of 1.2 million in storage) to be delivered every day. This was highly inefficient, open to the risk of information loss and clearly unsustainable. CCube delivered an electronic patient records project that, as well as making patient records available to clinicians at the click of a mouse, is saving the hospital trust well over £1 million a year.
This type of project can seem overly ambitious. In the case of Southmead Hospital, there were hundreds of millions of pages of patient records to be scanned. Nonetheless, while this involved investment upfront, by the second year the hospital trust was saving money. Equally importantly, clinical staff had the confidence of knowing that the medical records they needed for a consultation would always be available to them in a readable format with individual pages being easy to find.
This type of system needs to be simple to use. The focus should not be on the technology – to succeed, usability needs to be at its heart. The system should be intuitive to use with minimal training required; CCube estimates that it takes less than 30 minutes for a clinician to be trained on its system.
With the right focus on delivering a usable system, digital document management can save organisations considerable money, ensure the security of documents from physical and online threats, increase the accessibility of records so that they are instantly available to authorised users, wherever they may be, and enable them to share with associated services at the touch of a button.
CCube Solutions supplies information management services to numerous organisations within the NHS, government and private industry. Find out more at ccubesolutions.com.