20 March 2017

Why digital records are the future for data safety and better care


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Iain Carpenter


When it comes to the storage of sensitive information, there's a general consensus that digital is best.

We're all aware of the risks of non-digital storage systems, following recent reports of NHS paper records getting lost. Although there's no such thing as a completely flawless system, digital care records will mean that information can be shared directly between secure systems. Eliminating the need to transfer data through unsecured portals like warehouses, the chances of misplacing important documents are greatly reduced.

The NHS and social care services currently use a mixture of paper and electronic records. With one million people in contact with health and care services every 36 hours, finding a safe and secure way to share information between different services is essential.

Over the next two years, the PRSB aims to further improve patient care, safety and data security, by working with patients and the health and social care professions to develop and implement new standards for digital care records. The standards will enable health and care professionals to access relevant information quickly and easily, so that patients are no longer faced with the task of repeating their story. Improving the quality and safety of care throughout the health and social care system, they will enhance efficiency for both patients and staff.

The standards we're creating largely relate to transfers of care, when a patient is moving from one part of the care system to another. If you're a patient being treated by mental health services in hospital, we want to ensure that your local GP has access to all the information he or she needs, so that your aftercare can be continued. By introducing these standards, relevant patient information will be available wherever and whenever care is being provided.

For example, we have just published standards on how data for patients receiving crisis care should be recorded, ensuring that professionals can access relevant information, such as end of life care plans and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) alerts. Also, digital care records can help to dramatically reduce the risk of sepsis, http://sepsistrust.org which kills 44,000 people a year in the UK, more than the top three cancers combined. Only digital records can make critical information available to people where and when it is most needed.


Working with key organisations, including NHS Digital and numerous professional bodies, the PRSB has generated these standards through a combination of careful research and extensive consultation. Before reports are completed, we hold workshops and online surveys with clinicians, social care providers, patients and other stakeholders, to ensure the criteria of the standards meet the needs of patients and professionals. Every report is then approved by key stakeholders involved in the project, including suppliers, professional bodies and health and care organisations.


Of course, no system is perfect. Recent incidents involving attacks on hospital trust information systems have highlighted the need for more focus on cyber security in health and care. At the moment, the NHS is actively creating the most secure systems it can, with NHS Digital launching a series of new CareCERT services, offering assessments, support and guidance for NHS organisations. Meanwhile, many trusts are investing in hiring cyber security consultants and specialists to prevent incidents of hacking and data misuse to ensure sensitive health and care information is as safe as it can be. As we continue to move patient records into the digital space, this focus on security will remain imperative.

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