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Opinion Piece: Paperless 2020, how can document capture help the NHS

Much has already been written about digital transformation, and how technology is becoming increasingly influential in shaping entire organisations’ growth plans, says Steve Clarke, Healthcare Solutions Manager, Kodak Alaris Information Management. However, while much of the discussion so far has focused on the enterprise, there are massive transformation projects underway in the public sector.

The NHS has been charged with making £22bn of efficiency savings by 2020, while at the same time modernising its IT systems in line with other public sector organisations. The Government has said the NHS must find more efficient ways of working to reduce costs, increase productivity and improve relationships with patients.

A key goal of the programme is for every local health authority to be ‘paper-free’ by 2020. According to reports, each NHS trust spends between £500,000 and £1m per year on paper, including the cost of storing it and moving it around the NHS network.

The Government wants to get rid of outdated technology like fax machines and encourage the use of tablets instead of handwriting patient notes, claiming this will be more convenient for patients, and help doctors to provide faster diagnoses. “Every day, care is held up and patients are kept waiting while an army of people transport and store huge quantities of paper round our healthcare system,” said Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information when the plans were announced. “This approach is past its sell by date. We need to consign to the dustbin of history the industry in referral letters, the outdated use of fax machines and the trolleys groaning with patients’ notes.”

Centralising paper-based and soft copy documents into one digital data source will make it quicker and easier to locate patient notes, and produce huge time and cost savings for local health authorities and NHS Trusts.

However, with the NHS the world’s fifth biggest employer, the task of going paperless is enormous. Scanning and storing a mountain of existing documents in a digital format can be both laborious and time-consuming. Here are some ways in which modern document capture and information management technology can help with the job at hand, and ease the pain of going paperless.

1. Sorting
Scanning is only part of the workload. Before information can be captured, employees must remove staples, insert header sheets or sort documents by type or department. After scanning, they index documents, correct errors or remove exception pieces that need to be returned to their owners.

The amount of labour that goes into preparation and post work is often far greater than the amount that goes into scanning.

New sorting functionality on modern scanners reduces both the pre- and post-scanning workload. Whether it’s automatically depositing patch sheets into a separate bin for reuse or isolating documents like blank pages, sorting is a valuable time-saver.

2. Four-layer Document Protection
Even with the best document preparation, there are several challenges associated with scanning – for example a sheet getting caught and setting off a chain reaction of trapped or torn papers.

Four layers of protection prevents this. Length detection protects against papers getting stuck or overlapped and appearing as one long document, when in fact they are two documents. Ultrasonic double document detection also ensures that only one document enters the scanner at a time, which is especially helpful when a small document sticks together with a larger document. Intelligent document protection on Kodak Alaris scanners “listens” for a tell-tale crumpling sound and immediately stops the scanning process to protect the papers. Lastly, metal detection prevents forgotten staples and paper clips from throwing a wrench into the process and scratching the scanner glass.

3. Barcode and Data Extraction
Barcodes provide essential data needed to index documents. When barcodes aren’t interpreted until after documents have been scanned, critical data can be lost. New scanners read the barcodes during scanning. They capture a high-resolution raw version of the barcodes, which is more easily interpreted through barcode recognition engines. This results in fewer cases in which employees must manually enter data due to a blurry barcode that software couldn’t “read.”

4. Intelligent Printing
Disorganised documents are a pricey threat to smooth and streamlined workflows. A global survey by market intelligence firm IDC found that inefficient document management costs organisations $19,732 per information worker per year.* One solution? Intelligent features that help track paper documents. Some scanners come equipped with three intelligent features to physically or digitally print on documents and images. Image addressing, indexing and patch counting all help track data in business systems, automating tedious tasks and boosting efficiency.

When handling just a couple of documents, rescanning one page may not be a big deal. But in a high-volume back scanning environment, that kind of rework is a major drag on morale, productivity and efficiency.

One more important thing to note: sophisticated scanning software can help with compliance and regulation requirements. For example, the BS 10008 standard outlines best practice for transferring electronic information between systems and migrating paper records to digital files. It also gives guidelines for managing the availability and accessibility of any records that could be required as legal evidence. This is particularly pertinent to the NHS, where medical records may be submitted in court cases.

Ensuring a digital audit trail is in place from the point of scanning should be a priority for each NHS organisation undergoing digital transformation. Kodak Alaris’ latest range of scanners and software provide these features, among many others, to help organisations stay protected and as productive throughout their digitisation journey.

*“Bridging the Information Worker Productivity Gap: New Challenges and Opportunities for IT,” IDC, September 2012