The paperless NHS: Managing the change

Image: The paperless NHS: Managing the change

Last year, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced targets for the NHS to go paperless by 2018, with the aim of saving billions, improving services, not to mention meeting the challenges of an aging population.
This move is part of a broader overhaul of NHS systems and technology, bringing patients compatible digital records of their health information that can follow them around the health and social care system. This means, in the majority of cases, whether a patient needs a GP, hospital or a care home, the professionals involved in their care can see their history at the touch of a button and share crucial information.
All very worthy, but as anyone working for an NHS Trust will know, the move towards a paperless environment is easier said than done. Not only does it involve introducing a variety of new technologies, but also creating a significant internal cultural change of the thousands of doctors, nurses and support staff that rely on the printed page each and every day.

For the move to paperless to truly work, printing cannot be just “switched off” – it needs to be managed. An effectively managed print infrastructure will aid the implementation of EDM technologies and improve the print behaviour of staff, preparing them for the eventual shift to a digital environment. Equipping staff with the right tools to improve print behaviour is just as important as the actual digital infrastructure. But where to start?

Print Audit/Investigation
A useful starting point is to conduct a detailed site audit across a Trust’s locations, identifying which print devices are unnecessary and inefficient, and where there are opportunities to save costs. Streamlining a print fleet and reducing the numerous desktop devices down to fewer multi-function devices, is a great way of beginning the culture shift. By not having a printer within arm’s reach, staff will begin thinking - is this really worth printing?

Print Management Software
A solution that is now commonplace among the majority of NHS Trusts is the inclusion of print management software to a print fleet. Using such a solution ensures that users are able to securely retrieve their print jobs and are less likely to print in error, eradicating a lot of unnecessary print waste.
Using such print management software also allows for rules and restrictions to be put in, place making staff more accountable for what they print and again developing a greener print culture across the Trust.

The Digital Transition
While the implemented managed print service addresses the reduction in print waste and associated costs, work on moving the existing paper loads into digital format through bulk scanning and archiving projects can take place. Once complete all files that were once hard copy can be securely stored and easily retrieved, digitally.
With print behaviour being tackled via managed print, and a document management system in place, Trusts are then in a better position for implementing digital workflow processes and truly be on the path to becoming paperless.

A major barrier – in any industry sector – to a paper-free environment can be bringing staff on board with the culture change associated with a new technology regime. During this time internal communications throughout the trust are vital to clearly, concisely and effectively communicate the bigger picture to their employees, whether it’s about saving money, improving efficiency and workflow, or operating in a greener capacity. Education from a technical perspective is also important. Many staff will be cynical about new technology, perceiving it simply as something else to learn in an already busy working week. However, with a dedicated training programme that focuses in particular on the positive results and benefits of the solution, this can be mitigated.

Becoming paperless is not about stopping printing, it’s about changing the way you print to create a greener culture and prepare staff for the eventual shift to digital systems and workflows.

Photo Credit: Jonathan D. Blundell via Compfight cc

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