Is the move to Electronic Patient Records in the NHS destined to fail?

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Paper vs. Digital

The recent Cyber Attack in the NHS surely has raised the issue of whether digitalising the NHS entirely is the best strategy for healthcare organisations within the UK or whether it has just proved to highlight frailties and limitations within the national network. 

This debate has been consistently thrown around within the Data Quality arena when considering the benefits of paper based versus being either partially or entirely digital.

NHS Trusts nationally are investing significantly in trying to implement or update EPR (Electronic Patient Records) systems to transition from being heavily paper based to more electronic  based solutions but how much of a benefit will these changes actually provide? I have tried to asses some of the pros and cons below;   

Advantages of Paper Based Records

Disadvantages of Paper Based Records

Paper based records have been used since the NHS was founded in 1948 so the data is already there in this format

It is very difficult to share paper based records with multiple agencies or different NHS systems

The paper based system is already in place and therefore the majority of NHS workers are familiar with a paper based system

Easy to alter patient records without any audit trail or version control

Clinicians have a greater scope to write more in-depth notes to aid Healthcare Professionals

Can be easy to misread and decipher Clinicians notes incorrectly

Paper based records are generally safe providing the people with access to them are responsible and they are stored correctly

The typical hospital maintains tens of millions of paper records and documents that have to be stored (and archived) in a searchable format. Is this practical with an ever-growing population

Can be easier to record data as some systems can very rigid – can result in incorrect or inaccurate data

Paper records are very easy to copy with very little security often with nothing but a locked door

Advantages of Digital Based Records

Disadvantages of Digital Based Records

Electronic Patient Records (EPR) allows immediate desktop access to patient history for any authorised user

The financial implications of training users on the new systems – everyone that needed access would need this before being able to access data

Allows Healthcare Professionals to work remotely partially negating the skills shortage within the sector due to flexible working

Data Security – as last week has shown, technology will always be susceptible to hacking or other technical issues

Increases legibility – electronic records are typed rather than handwritten

Limiting software may mean clinicians and Healthcare Professionals have to “shoe horn” notes and information potentially losing money for the Trust

Allows records to shared with multiple agencies providing the different systems can communicate or the same systems are used  

Willingness of NHS workers to change to the new process

Enables data to be mined and analysed more effectively – providing further information and insights to the Health and Social Care sector

Digital records are still reliant on human input – if the user inputs incorrectly the data retrieved may be unreliable

These lists are far from exhaustive and this topic is surely going to cause further debates and highlight other issues which may need to be considered.  What is your you feel that the NHS will benefit once the Government’s strategy has been fully implemented or do you think it will cause more harm than good?