THE NHS should become paperless within the next five years to save billions of pounds and improve services, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to say.
Mr Hunt will call for patient records to be made fully digital by 2018 so that information can be better shared across the health and social care systems.
Improved use of technology would allow health professionals to spend more time with patients and help patients take control of their own care, he will tell the Policy Exchange think-tank.
The move could save more than £4 billion and would give people online access to their own health records that are held by GPs, which Mr Hunt wants to happen by 2015.
Hospital referral letters from GPs to patients would be replaced by emails, while creating a complete, linked set of digital patient records would allow staff from any part of the NHS or social care system to access them at the touch of a button and share information on their treatment safely.
Mr Hunt said: "The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution.
“It is crazy that ambulance drivers cannot access a full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency - and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records.
"Previous attempts to crack this became a top-down project akin to building an aircraft carrier.
“We need to learn those lessons - and in particular avoid the pitfalls of a hugely complex, centrally specified approach.
“Only with world class information systems will the NHS deliver world class care."
Mr Hunt emphasised that protecting personal health information was vital to maintaining trust between patients and staff, but underlined the vital need for the improved flow of patients' health information around the health and care system.
He said: "We need to get this right and that's why we have commissioned Dame Fiona Caldicott to lead an independent review to make sure that an appropriate balance is struck between the protection of confidential information and the legitimate use and sharing of that information for health purposes. I will be looking closely at the recommendations."
The NHS Commissioning Board (NHS CB), which is tasked with modernising and improving the NHS, says it expects hospitals to plan to make information digitally and securely available by 2014/15.
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