Ensuring Long-Term Preservation of Healthcare Records & Data

Blog / 27 Feb, 2024

Beyond Paper: Ensuring Long-Term Preservation of Healthcare Records & Data

NHS Grampian

The recent plumbing leak at Dr. Gray’s Hospital in Elgin, resulting in the potential loss of several hundred paper-based medical records and data, is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of traditional paper-based records. The incident which caught the eye of major news outlets such as the BBC and SKY News highlights the importance for healthcare organisations to take a risk based approach and prioritise the implementation of long-term digital archiving and preservation solutions.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, who represents Moray, said:

“… is imperative for NHS Grampian to be fully transparent about this incident and the circumstances behind it. I am seriously concerned that any patients’ records could ever be put in a position where if something like this occurred, they would be left in an irretrievable state.

“They must urgently outline what robust measures will be – or better still – already have been put in place to make sure every effort has been taken to avoid any more records being destroyed.”

Unfortunately, incidents like the one at NHS Grampian are not isolated occurrences; there have been numerous other instances where crucial archived paper-based medical data has suffered damage or faced complete destruction. Not only are years of data lost, but one also has to consider the reputational damage for the organisations.

Paper-based vs Digital in the eyes of the NHS

When comparing the advantages of long-term digital archiving and preservation to their paper-based counterparts, it underscores the importance for institutions to embrace digital transformation. Accessibility is greatly enhanced with digital archives, as data can be easily accessed online rather than being confined to a storage room. This not only saves time in locating data but also promotes collaboration among multiple parties.

Digital archiving offers enhanced data safeguarding, for example within archiving and preservation systems there are verification processes to ensure the data is complete and readable. As we have seen with the NHS Grampian incident, there remains a risk to the integrity of data stored in physical form due to environmental factors.

Finally, there are Long-term costs linked to maintaining physical data. It is well known that space is a valuable commodity within the NHS. Digital archives effectively reduce both space requirements and the associated costs. There is also the added benefit of a cloud-based, digital approach being scalable, allowing for flexible management of budgets and risks according to specific needs. Paper-based data can easily become unmanageable as the volume continues to increase. While it may be initially stored in designated archiving rooms, limited space can force physical records and documents to be at risk by being stored in inadequate areas, jeopardising long-term preservation. 

What can be done to reduce the risk of this happening again?

It’s commonplace for institutions like the NHS to manage both legacy paper-based medical records and newer digital data. The initial step involves adopting a risk-based approach. Digitalising large data volumes is a very time-consuming process that comes at a cost. Hence, it’s crucial to identify Paper-based records and data that pose significant risks to the organisation if lost. These are the data sets that not only require digitalisation but also preservation.

Beyond existing records, consideration must be given to records and data that is being generated going forward. For records (both physical and digital) which need to be retained, an appropriate and consolidated digital preservation strategy should be adopted.’ This can include, identifying relevant datasets, assessing associated risks, and determining preservation methods.


Anthony Wells

Anthony assumed the role of Product Marketing Manager at Arkivum in 2024, leveraging over a decade of experience of product marketing management in the technology sector. Proficient in developing and executing marketing strategies, Anthony is also experienced in product lifecycle management, from inception through to discontinuation.

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