Reducing Patient Data Risks: How and Why to Take Your Healthcare Organisation Paperless
Patients are worried about confidentiality and, particularly, that healthcare providers might not be doing enough to protect their data. And so, many new and updated regulations, such as the GDPR, have been put into place this past year to ensure data is managed to the highest standards.
Why is everyone so worried? With “downright dangerous” fax machines still in regular use despite a recent ban on new acquisitions, as well as massive losses of paper files being revealed across the healthcare sector, it's no wonder. In a bid to alleviate confidentiality issues and data breaches, the healthcare sector has set a target to go paperless by 2020. With that, there are many reasons behind such a fast-paced push for the removal of paper from the sector.
The Problem with Paper and Patient Confidentiality
Those in the healthcare sector are known for stockpiling paper records. Storing data relating to all facets of patient care is essential — you never know when referral documents will be needed. However, in the modern era, keeping paper documents is not only unnecessary, but it also produces a bounty of data security risks:
- Paper documents are easily misplaced or lost — both inside the work environment or while being transferred from place to place. Misplaced files have caused major issues in the past, resulting in breaches of sensitive information.
- Paper documentation is very accessible. Stored in filing cabinets, or left out on fax machine trays or sitting visible on desks, it’s all too easy for an unauthorised individual to access and view sensitive patient data.
- The healthcare sector has a reliance on sending paper documents via physical fax machines. However, physical fax machines present numerous risks for data security, from misdialing and sending information to the wrong place, to being impossible to encrypt and opening the door for hackers.
The Benefits of a Paperless Workspace for Better Data Protection
The NHS has acknowledged that by switching to a paperless working environment, patient data would be safer. The benefits of moving to digital formats and taking a step away from paper records are well documented. Many organisations both inside and outside the healthcare sector are already paperless, but what exactly are the advantages when it comes to securing patient data?
- Going paperless means increasing security through access controls and password protection, while offering better chances that data is transmitted to the right place using pre-made contact lists and that documents can be stored on digital platforms where they are less likely to be lost. Four in five data breaches occur because of human error, so whether it’s a misplaced file or unauthorised access, it is often people that leave the biggest mark on data protection. The use of software increases automation, which takes people out of the equation, thereby reducing the risk of human error.
- Paper files cannot be secured in the same way as digital files; they cannot be encrypted or locked behind security software. They can be put into locked drawers and safes, but in large quantities, this is difficult, expensive and resource heavy for retrieving particular documents.
- Going paperless means that physical fax machines are removed from the healthcare environment and alternatives are used instead. One such solution is online faxing, which allows for fax functionality to continue, while the vulnerabilities associated with fax machines and their use of physical paper documents are removed from your faxing process.
- Improvements to the way you store and maintain documentation can help improve compliance with GDPR and NHS Digital.
How to Achieve a Paperless Workplace before 2020
Many industries, not just the healthcare sector, keep paper records for reference purposes — for instance, insurance policies. But in reality, a digital document is almost always just as valuable in terms of providing this kind of evidence. There really is no need to house paper when computer files are just as effective. By moving over to paperless, you can help reduce the data security risks that paper documents pose.
But how do you go paperless?
Locate the Right Digital Solution
In its Records Management Code of Practice for Health and Social Care 2016, NHS digital outlines that most documentation can be stored digitally without issue, and, in fact, should be stored to improve data protection and access. It does not state what platform you should use, however.
As cartoonist Tom Fishburne highlights in his take on computer software, finding the right IT solution is essential. Select a digital solution that will help you easily manage your files and run your paperless workplace effectively. Your choice should enable you to carry on working to the standards of your current output.
Going paperless requires the removal of physical fax machines for your work environment, but you must carry on faxing if you are to communicate with the rest of the healthcare sector. Opting for the right kind of digital solution — such as online fax services — ensures you can go paperless while continuing to transmit files through required formats. Without the proper digital functionality, you won’t achieve this, and you’ll be hindered by the paperless environment.
Transfer, Destroy and Maintain
Once you’ve selected your digital document platforms, you need to start moving over to them. This requires a lot of investment of time and resources — the NHS has launched a support service at a cost.
The process is simple — collect all your paper resources, identify which you need to keep and which can be destroyed, then upload, transfer or scan all necessary documentation to your new system. Once your paper documents are digital, you can destroy those left — unless it is essential for them to be kept as a physical record. NHS Digital advocates the destruction of unnecessary files, setting standards for how long you should keep them and explaining how documentation can be destroyed, stating:
Paper records can be destroyed to an international standard. They can be incinerated, pulped or shredded (using a cross-cut shredder) under confidential conditions. Do not use the domestic waste or put them in a rubbish tip.
Now you’ve achieved a paperless environment, with access to all records and files being conducted through your computer network. In order to keep yourself paperless, you must maintain these practices. This means avoiding the use of paper whenever possible and keeping all record keeping and communications digital. Remain vigilant and ensure physical, paper-based practices don’t creep back into work life for great success.