Ted Reynolds, Head of Healthcare for Restore Digital, explores the role data derived from archived patient records could play in population health management, while enabling a higher level of insight driven strategy.

Previously the digitisation of paper-based patient records was driven primarily by a desire to unclog the NHS of the reams of handwritten paper in its possession. The goal, ultimately, was for the NHS to become paper-free.

Now the practice is about the creation of a more efficient, compliant, paper-light system, where patient insight can flow more freely through a health ecosystem and improve outcomes.

As more patient data enters the NHS, there’s the opportunity for greater insight to be gleaned. But, where there’s benefit, there’s also potential for risk in how that data is collected and managed.

From now on, the health records of a person will exist digitally from birth. With the information gathered not only able to support personal health, but also with the capacity to shed light on how population health could be better managed.

In years to come we’ll have an incredibly rich source of health data that could help us better manage conditions. And with it the potential for prevention rather than cure, for management over crisis intervention. This will become a source of insight that will be the backbone of all NHS strategies.

Which got me thinking. If future data holds such potential, what secrets could the thousands of yet to be digitised, patient records unlock?

Delving into our patient past

As the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary it faces some of its most difficult healthcare challenges.

The population is living longer, cases of chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease are growing, and the health inequality gap is increasing.

It’s a tall order for Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) charged not only with managing NHS budgets, but also the provision of local health services and the development of plans to meet local health demands.

But patient data – both new and old – can offer an opportunity for greater, strategic insight. Especially when it comes to population health management.

The process of population health management begins by gathering key demographics and clinical data about patients.

Naturally data that can be taken, and suitably anonymised, from electronic health records is the lowest hanging fruit. We saw this in action during the pandemic when primary care patient records were used to help identify those most at risk and put in place safeguarding and later, vaccination prioritisation.

But what about the vital insight that currently lives only on paper?

By 2025 the aim is that 90% of NHS trusts and foundation trusts will have electronic health records. With progress being made, there are many areas of the NHS still reliant on paper-based processes to manage live clinical pathways for patients.

And that’s before you factor in the treasure trove of insight among thousands of historic patient records gathering dust in archive boxes.

The truth is, capturing the data from paper-based and legacy patient records is a challenge. For the most part these records are handwritten and due to poor handling and storage, often unreadable.

But the juice really is worth the squeeze. The collection, digitisation and analysis of the unstructured data recorded in these paper-based documents often offer some of the greatest health insights.

Fortunately, tapping into it is now possible through advances in technology.

The secrets of this ‘legacy patient data’ need to be unlocked. With data rationalised, handled responsibly and compliantly.

At Restore Digital, 85% of NHS Trusts work with us. We digitise around a quarter of a million historic patient records each month and manage many thousands of patient records via our robust and secure hosted document management platform, EDMonline™.

We have a wide range of technology in our armoury to make what was once considered impossible now a reality. From Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to identify key words and phrases, to collecting metadata from lose filing to add context to otherwise orphaned documents or conducting processes using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to handle waiting lists.

Protecting a vital health asset

The value of this data – both in terms of patient outcomes and population health management – has been a driving factor in us, as a business working to DCB0129 standards. A standard which follows a long list of accreditations we’re proud to have achieved during our many years of experience working with the NHS.

DCB0129 is a standard for manufacturers of health IT software that helps to prove the clinical safety of products. It provides a set of requirements to promote and ensure the effective application of clinical risk management by those organisations responsible for the development and management of health IT systems.

DCB0129 sits together with DCB0160 – the corresponding standard for health organisations deploying IT systems.

It’s an exceptionally high standard to achieve. It’s only held by a small number of suppliers, but in my view should be mandatory for those providing services such as ours. Not least because of the clinical safeguarding and risk mitigation it provides and how it demonstrates the responsible handling of patient data, but also because it enables closer collaboration between supplier and the NHS.

After all patient data – new and historic – is without question one of the most valuable assets the NHS has at its disposal.
For more information about how Restore Digital works with the NHS and could help you Go Digital Faster, discover more here.


Ted ReynoldsTed Reynolds, Head of Healthcare at Restore Digital, has more 15 years of experience working closely with the NHS, supporting trusts and health boards in projects from weeding libraries to full scale digital transformation.