The NHS could be paper-free by 2020, the head of a major review into the health service’s use of technology has predicted, as the Government announces a £4.2 billion investment to bring modern techniques into the health service.
Bob Wachter claimed online prescriptions, digital patient records and smartphone apps could make the NHS more efficient and improve care. Mr Wachter is due to publish a report in June that will outline how new use of IT can ease pressure on the NHS.
He told The Telegraph that the average doctor and nurse are not as tech savvy as they need to be and that they are often “having to do the work twice”.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will today announce a package of investments that includes £1.8 billion to digitise records to remove dependence on paper and fax machines, and £400 million to build apps and provide free Wi-Fi in hospitals.
Patients with conditions like diabetes, hypertension and cancer will be encouraged to monitor their health from home. Mr Hunt said that by 2020 a quarter of people with long-term conditions will be able to send their health data to doctors and nurses over the internet.
The move is designed to ease the pressure on GPs by cutting down on repeat appointments when symptoms are under control. It will also help the NHS meet its pledge of £22 billion worth of efficiency savings.
Mr Hunt said the innovation will mean “better patient outcomes and a revolution in healthcare at home”, and “ease pressure on the frontline and create stronger partnerships between doctor and patient”.
The package adds to £1 billion announced for healthcare in the Autumn statement last year.
Supporters of using technology in healthcare believe it could greatly improve the health service and mean better value for money.
Mr Wachter, an American who has written a book titled “The Digital Doctor” that looks at how technology will change healthcare, visited three trusts last week and spoke to professionals from across the NHS as part of the early stages of his review.
He said hospitals have been failing to adapt to the 21st century and that that the NHS was “not at the level of some of the better places in the US”.
“There’s a lot of paper floating around, and that’s unhealthy,” he said. In GP clinics “the implementation of digital patient records has gone quite well.” But it’s been “much spottier” in hospitals.
“There are hospitals where doctors are using digital tools, but also still using paper tools, and having to do the work twice,” he said. “It’s not unreasonable to believe that by 2020 the system can be essentially digital.”
But before then the NHS will need to train its staff and invest in modern computers like the ones people use at home.
“The average doctor and nurse is not as technologically savvy as I think they need to be,” said Wachter. Add to that a network that’s “too slow”, and you find it “takes too much time and people get frustrated.”
Wachter’s June report will outline how the NHS can bridge the gap between the slow, outdated reality of the NHS and its plan to be a pioneer of tech in healthcare. “I don’t think there’s any fundamental reason why we can’t get this right,” he said.
The NHS is working with major companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple to create the new health apps, some of which are already in development. As part of the £4.2 billion funding, the Government has set aside £1 billion to go towards cyber security and data consent.
As early as next year, the Government hopes to see at least 10 per cent of patients using apps and online services, like click and collect prescriptions, to access GP services.