The National Health Service knows it has a paper problem. In 2013, newly appointed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt set out his bold aim of seeing a paperless NHS by 2018. This target was then extended to 2020, then 2023, with recent commentators predicting that there is no realistic prospect of achieving a fully digital NHS before 2027.
In the interim period, the NHS has been beset by challenges, ranging from crippling ransomware attacks to the compliance burden of meeting its GDPR obligations as a controller of specially protected data. Add to this the continuing squeeze on public finances, and it’s not hard to see why progress towards a paperless service has been slow.
However, there’s one key area where NHS organisations can combine security, compliance, resource efficiency and digital transformation, and that’s right at the top, by creating a paperless Boardroom. Furthermore, in a sector that can be subject to restructuring at the highest levels, there are compelling reasons why digitising board-level communications helps future-proof this aspect of the NHS.
Security and compliance as key drivers for paperless Boardrooms
Recent research by analyst company Quocirca discovered that healthcare organisations are more concerned than any other sector about the risk of data breaches involving printed documents. This is not surprising, given that the UK Information Commissioner’s office reports that the highest number of paper-related data breaches in the UK relate to healthcare organisations. With the advent of the GDPR, data protection has become even more critical.
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Improving document security is, therefore, a key ongoing challenge for the NHS at all levels, and board meeting materials are among the most sensitive. Controlling distribution and access to confidential board meeting materials and supporting information is difficult when organisations rely on printed documents or email-based distribution. There is no way to track the ongoing destination of printed materials and no auditable trail confirming receipt, meaning that they can easily fall into the wrong hands.
By adopting digital board portal software, NHS Boards can ensure that only authorised directors and support personnel can access critical documents, which are stored in a secure, central location. If necessary, security settings at file level can restrict the ability of users to share or print documents, meaning that they can be safely controlled within the board portal.
Distributing board materials to directors via email constitutes another weak link in the security chain. Directors frequently use personal email addresses to communicate on board issues. This makes them prime targets for phishing and other cybercriminal activities aimed at compromising networks and stealing protected data. By using a secure director messaging network within a board portal, NHS Boards can eliminate this risk and keep sensitive messages away from prying eyes.
This combination of document and communication management, enabled by board portal software, improves data protection compliance, keeping confidential information safely under control but accessible to authorised personnel at all times.
Maximising resource efficiency by reducing admin
Public sector organisations have a duty to use resources effectively wherever possible and board portals can help meet this target by reducing the administrative time needed to create board meeting packs. By adopting a digital system many of the time-consuming manual processes previously associated with building board books, such as printing, collation and copying, are eliminated. Administrators can build board books quickly by using a simple drag-and-drop system. They can then alert directors that materials are ready for review.
Board portal software also supports administrative security by providing the facility to create meeting minutes within the portal itself, meaning that drafted minutes are not stored in insecure locations such as personal laptops. Dynamic board meeting minutes can also be used to assign actions to individual directors or committees and to generate automated prompts to remind directors of their commitments. This further reduces the administrative burden of supporting board activities.
Supporting busy directors
Board directors of NHS bodies, like those of private sector organisations, are frequently time-poor and welcome improvements in the efficiency of working processes – as long as they are easy to adjust to. A board portal is an intuitive environment that offers 24/7 access to board information on the director’s preferred device, so that they can set their own schedule for reviewing board meeting materials. Accessing materials electronically means that they can navigate quickly and easily through documents and find relevant information from archives at the touch of a button, marking up documents and sharing feedback through a secure communication system.
Future-proofing NHS Boards in turbulent times
Any public sector organisation is subject to the whims of government, and restructuring has been a key feature of the NHS in recent years. Jeremy Hunt has recently criticised the Lansley reforms of 2012, which created clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), the NHS England Board, Public Health England and Health Education England. It is possible that the reforms may be “quietly unpicked”, resulting in further re-organisation of the NHS and, unavoidably, its associated boards.
In this instance, using digitally enabled board support systems will allow for an easier transition between governance structures and ensure the continuity and security of critical data. Newly appointed directors will have access to valuable historical board information, while board portal security control will guarantee that outgoing directors relinquish access to systems and data in a timely and compliant manner.
Paperless boards – about much more than reducing paper use
In looking at the advantages of paperless boards for the NHS, we haven’t touched on the subject of reducing paper once. In truth, “going paperless” isn’t really about a desire to save trees and money by eliminating paper and print consumption, although those are welcome side-effects. It’s really about adopting secure, digital systems that are easy to use and lowering the administrative burden on already overstretched public sector employees. That’s a remedy that every NHS Board director should be happy to prescribe.
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