“Reasonably strong evidence supports the premise that, if appropriately deployed and used, digital health care is safer and of a higher quality than care through paper-based systems.”

Robert M. Wachter

MD, Chair, Making IT Work: Harnessing the Power of Health Information Technology to Improve Care in England, 2016

Healthcare is being transformed and modernised through technology. With real-time access to constantly updated and accurate information, practices and their patients benefit from improved security, greater access to information and more time for consultations.

But embracing these technologies needs careful planning. It was only recently that the Wachter Review stated that the goal of a paperless health system by 2020 is unattainable, warning of the problems that could arise from hurried roll-outs.

Gradually adopting technologies and carefully planning their implementation is therefore key to their success. Paperless working can undoubtedly help improve healthcare, but it needs to be introduced in a sustainable and durable way. We will take you through the things you should consider – and will detail the benefits that paperless working can bring – supporting you on your way to becoming a truly digital practice.

Flexibility in and out of the practice

One of the most transformational benefits that paperless working brings is allowing clinicians to be more mobile. Staff with mobile devices can access patient records wherever they are, taking information between consultation rooms and even out of the practice. By removing the need for duplicate copies of records in paper form, patient information is kept secure and information is updated into one comprehensive history of care.

Devices can also be linked-up in the practice, with clinical tools designed to assess patients – like ECG machines or blood pressure monitors – feeding results directly into patient records. With everyone and everything connected together, a truly joined-up approach to care can be achieved.

“Paperless working takes many forms and has multiple different touch points for both patients and staff. It’s only by understanding all of the touch points and the potential impact of change that you can begin to work towards a paperless practice”

Stephen Wilcock

Managing Director, Egton

Empowering patients

Technology is now part of our everyday lives. Patients are, more often than not, digitally savvy and frequently expect practices to be using technology. By adopting a digital-friendly approach, practices can meet the expectations of these patients – and introduce the benefits of technology to those who aren’t as up to speed in its use.

These benefits can be liberating to patients, bringing them greater levels of care. And even small changes can have a big impact. Take the waiting room experience. When patients are waiting for their appointment they can digitally complete questionnaires, update personal information and fill out satisfaction surveys. By completing these tasks outside of the assessment room, clinicians get to spend more time understanding the problems their patients have.

Even with these minimal changes, patients feel more attended to and have a better healthcare experience. And this doesn’t even account for larger changes, like patients having access to their medical records online, helping them to self-manage their care. Through digital health systems, patients can truly feel empowered.

Nominate a paper-free champion

Now that we have a grasp over some of the benefits of a paperless practice, let’s look at how we can make sure that its implementation is successful. One way to do this is to nominate a paper-free champion.

Changing the way that you work is never easy or straightforward. By having a person in the practice who fully endorses paperless systems, those who are more sceptical of changes to how they work can be educated on the benefits changes can bring them. A paper-free champion can also be on hand to answer any queries that patients have about new systems, helping to smooth over any doubts that may arise.

New systems require user buy-in. Having someone backing these systems will go a long way in ensuring that any changes you make are both embedded and sustainable.

“successful implementation of health IT requires the initial and sustained engagement of front-line users of technology.”

Robert M. Wachter

MD, Chair, Making IT Work: Harnessing the Power of Health Information Technology to Improve Care in England, 2016

Know what you are printing – and why

Going paperless doesn’t mean that printing will be completely eradicated. Sometimes a physical piece of paper in your hand can’t be replaced. But unnecessary printing can become a habit – and habits are hard to break.

The cost of printing is often financially and environmentally sizable, and it’s easy to lose sight of what is being printed and for what purpose. A print audit is a great way to combat these problems. By giving you true visibility on printing in the practice, you can build a complete picture and begin to identify areas where savings can be made.

Be patient

The final thing to consider is your own attitude to going paperless. Since becoming an effective and sustainable digital practice takes time, you will need to have patience. Take the easy steps first to become adjusted with the journey ahead. These beginning steps can be small modifications, like sending more emails or having more conversations. And remember that although there will be challenges along the way, if you set realistic goals and steadily introduce new ways of working, your practice’s transition will be successful.