I don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, wants the NHS to be ‘paperless’ by 2018. Since it was announced back in January 2013, almost two years ago, it has been one of the most popular topics in the healthcare technology press. ‘Paperless’ is one of the ‘hip-words’ now; eHealth Insider, Health Service Journal, National Health Executive – you name it – all the cool kids are using it. In fact, it’s hard to go by a working day without stumbling upon an article or two – or a dozen – mentioning the ‘paperless’ agenda.

Yet here comes the twist: did everybody really hear about this? I know, you know, as you probably have an interest in this area or you would not be reading this blog. For that reason, your spouse probably knows, even your kids (who probably expect that the NHS already is paperless) know… But does your consultant know? Does the NHS receptionist know? Does your surgeon know?

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Surprising as it is, many of them don’t. This week eHealth Insider reported on a new survey conducted by The Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, which found that 57% of the surgeons surveyed were not aware of the NHS’ plans to become ‘paperless’.

At first I asked myself how could that even be possible? Do these surgeons actually live in the UK and if so, how did they manage to escape this ‘soon-to-be-paperless’ world? And then I remembered that a few months ago I was just as blissfully unaware as they are about this great ambition. When I joined the healthcare PR industry the ‘paperless agenda’ was one of the first things I learned. But before that I had no idea that the NHS was tasked with such a challenge by Jeremy Hunt.

So why don’t more people know about the paperless agenda?

I often think that, especially when working in an industry such as healthcare, we assume that everyone else is just as informed as we are. We forget that working in healthcare can mean so much more than the politics surrounding it and that to frontline staff their first and foremost priority is saving lives and caring for patients. GPs, nurses, surgeons – their job description and day-to-day tasks differ from those of healthcare officials and don’t necessarily include reading the healthcare news.

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So how do we make it easier for them? How can we make sure that the people actually affected, the end-users, are made aware of the decisions and important news stories?

As we cannot necessarily control what information is put into the mainstream press, perhaps it is time for NHS England to take the lead in ensuring widespread communication around the vision of a ‘paperless’ NHS and its importance in sustaining our healthcare system. For example, more wide-spread campaigns in public places close to hospitals, social media campaigns that make the idea simple to digest, providing guidance to trust communication teams on how to better inform and engage their staff, or getting chief executives and other senior staff involved in spreading the word using the organisations intranet.

One thing is for certain, while the 2018 goal is just a few years away, without better understanding and engagement by those at the heart of the NHS, it is no more than just vision.

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