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Paper vs. Digital Health Records: An NHS Crisis

A recent report by the research think tank, Parliament Street, revealed that 9,132 patient records were missing or stolen from 68 NHS hospital trusts throughout the 2017-2018 financial year.

Significantly, the University Hospital Birmingham had the largest number of missing records, at around 3,179 lost or stolen patient records. It was followed by Bolton NHS Trust and University Hospital Bristol which were at 2,163 and 1,105 missing records respectively.

According to Parliament Street, almost 95% of NHS trusts still use handwritten notes and paper records. The researchers believe that this is one of the main causes of record loss and called for NHS Trusts to eliminate paper use and adopt digital record capture technologies.

In a recent article from the Daily Mail, Mike Brooks, a doctor and chief medical officer, stresses the high risk of not going digital. Brooks recounts how a man once came in for a small brain hemorrhage and had to undergo an invasive test to assess his situation. The assessment was written up, but was later misplaced, causing the patient to undergo the same invasive surgery a second time. However, shortly after and as a result of the surgery, the patient suffered a stroke and died.

Brooks highlights that this fatality could have been avoided had the hospital's systems been digital. He adds that "this is not an isolated incident" and that his attempts to raise awareness on the shortcomings of paper records fell on the deaf ears of hospital management.

In response to this, Brooks launched a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that offers NHS hospitals software that gives them access to patient records via portable ipads in a mobile-first approach. This makes the process of inputting data into a computer system in real-time easier and more seamless.

However, one of the reasons why progress has been slow is due to the different types of IT systems being used across various healthcare entities. The lack of compatibility across different providers makes communication and information sharing a struggle. Consequently, not only should modern technology be used, but it should also be updated and compatible solutions should be adopted by all healthcare entities across the country.

Naturally, healthcare breaches of this kind are not limited to NHS Trusts in the UK. In August of 2018, an ABC investigation revealed one of the largest breaches of this kind in Australia's history. Extremely sensitive and confidential personal health information of over 400 patients, including illnesses, health issues, medical treatments and history, was stored inappropriately at an unsecured site.