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The Heart of England NHS foundation trust has signed a five-year deal to digitise its patient records.

The £7m contract, signed last year, sees EDM Group charged with converting the trust's millions of paper records into electronic format.

The records are collected daily from three trust sites and then tracked, transported, captured and scanned by EDM Group. Once digitised, the records can be accessed through the trust's online workflow system.

According to Andy Laverick, the trust's director of IT, talks around digitising the records had been going on for some time before the deal was signed.

"The number of patient records was increasing by around 40,000 to 50,000 a year and there was discussion around whether to build a shed to hold them," he said.

Rather than add another building to store the records, the trust opted to digitise the records, allowing it to cut the cost of physical storage and transportation, as well as hidden costs around the timely management of notes.

Scanning of the records began in April last year. The digitisation process is expected to take years to complete, due to both the volume of paper involved – Laverick estimates there are between 200 million and 300 million separate paper elements to deal with – and the time that preparing the documents to be scanned, for example by removing staples and paperclips and flattening the sheets, will take.

Once a record has been digitised and undergone a data quality check, it will be destroyed around 90 days later.

Digitisation will allow the trust to make notes "available anytime, anywhere", Laverick said, and means multiple clinicians are now able to access the same record at the same time.

The trust is hoping to further reduce the volume of paper it deals with in the future and will be examining options such as voice recognition and mobile devices for data input.

"We're paper-light," Laverick said. "Ultimately we're heading towards being paperless."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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