The national goal for all trusts to have electronic patient records is a valuable one, says Declan Hadley, but many pre-requisites need to be in place if such systems are truly to make a difference

For those of us who have spent many years working on digitisation of the NHS, it is always encouraging to hear national leaders committing to progress it further.

Clearly this agenda was a key focus for Matt Hancock, but his successor as health and social care secretary is also committing to advance it. Indeed, this past February Sajid Javid set a target for 90 per cent of NHS trusts to have an electronic patient record in place by December 2023 and the remaining 10 per cent to be in the process of implementing one.

It is an important and valuable ambition. Paper records are imperfect in many ways. Moving to recording information electronically can make a difference.

However, if EPRs are to truly change things, then trusts will need to be ‘EPR ready’. That means having the right digital infrastructure in place; the right networks and servers; the right Wi-Fi so that every clinician in every part of the organisation can easily use the system. It means ensuring legacy solutions can be easily integrated. It means being able to exploit new and emerging technologies to support the workforce to deliver safer care. Increasingly, it also means making sure that any hospital EPR fits into the wider digital plan for the health and social care footprint embodied by integrated care systems.

For many organisations, this will involve a lot of careful work with technology providers. There will also need to be detailed conversations within organisations – ensuring that plans for the EPR fit with plans for development more generally – and between organisations. If care is to be moved closer to home, for instance, then it will be necessary for a hospital EPR to support such a shift.

There is no doubt that, were all hospitals to have an EPR in place, it would be a big step towards smarter healthcare. But it is not the only step. There is much to be done if we are truly to reap the benefits of such a move.

Declan Hadley is healthcare development lead for UK and Ireland, Cisco

Seeing digitisation as part of a bigger picture