Trawling the paper trail

My mother suffers from a rare but debilitating disease.  Having recently applied to be accepted on a trial for new revolutionary type of treatment, she waited for 3 months to hear whether or not she had been successful.

In the end, becoming frustrated, she picked up the phone to her consultant’s secretary, only to be told that the application had never been made.  It had, my Mum knew, as she had a copy of the application letter in her hand.  Further phone calls were made and a few days letter she received a reply by the same secretary who said that yes, an application had in fact been made, but it had been turned down within two weeks of the original letter being sent.

Frustrating at best, life threatening at worst, this whole insistent had taken over 4 months to resolve, yet the information had been available after only two. Even more worryingly this type of issue and experience seems to be almost commonplace throughout the NHS.


Many of the issues are related to an overreliance on an overburdened paper based system.   Manual data capture, retrieval, management and storage is an archaic system consisting of in trays, filing cabinets, box files and plenty of opportunities for human error.  We know that to err is to be human, so why do we entrust precious documentation to busy, often preoccupied members of staff?

Worse still is the amount of ‘man-handling’ that any one document might be subjected to.  Any document that physically changes location and is processed by more than one person must have vastly increased odds on getting lost, falling into the wrong hands or ending up in entirely the wrong place.  Meanwhile the NHS or any other organisation with a high volume of paper to process is leaving the door wide open to litigation, or failing to comply with the data protection or freedom of information act.

The solutions to these problems are not new, but they are evolving rapidly.  The paperless office has now been in existence for quite some time.  However the speed and capability of the technology is now at an unprecedented rate.  Nowadays it is possible for companies to completely outsource their document capture, management and retrieval to an external body which as well as increasing efficiencies dramatically, also helps to reduce cost.

One has to look at the problem holistically.  For example one incident of mishandling patient records can cost the NHS thousands.  This cost may arise as a result of a claim against the NHS should a patient be adversely affected by a mistake, or because of time spent identifying and fixing any problem that has arisen as a result.  When this happens multiple times in an average day, costs rapidly escalate.

On the other hand a system that dynamically captures, scans and records information where it can easily be received and accessed, with no need for the real world movement of paper, could save the NHS and other paper reliant organisation millions.  Not just in efficiencies but in safeguarding their operation from the cost of a legal claim, and safeguarding the people who rely on their services from harm.

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