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Reducing the paper mountain

One GP is aiming to cut out the paper trail from general practice, says Jacky Law

If Dr Adem Akyol had his way, his Ramsgate surgery would be entirely paperless.

As it is, patient information received is scanned into the computer and the source material, where appropriate, is then shredded.

Prescriptions are emailed directly to the pharmacy. Everything is read on screen. Printing from computers is rare.

Dr Akyol would like to get rid of the old fashioned records envelopes altogether and free up a room currently filled with filing cabinets. However, his three partners still retain certain documents in a paper back-up system.

He would also love the PCT to stop sending paper in any form, given that email, he says, is so much more efficient. And when it comes to getting rid of paper, he has strong views on how waste is collected and managed.

Simple policies
Not every surgery has a ‘green’ IT expert like Dr Akyol. But  by implementing a few simple policies any practice can significantly reduce its paper waste.

First, you can stop using so much paper by reading and filing information online.

Entrenched habits like printing out for circulation, filing or just doodling are easily changed once decent online-filing systems have been set up and, importantly, are used.

If you must print, use both sides of the paper. The same applies to photocopying.

A scanner to get notes into the computer and a shredder to destroy those notes once filed online are both essential if a paperless surgery is to become a reality. Shredders cost anything from £60. Scanners are also relatively cheap, starting at well under £100, but it is worth spending more to get good optical recognition. For guidance on shredding and holding records, download ‘Good practice guidelines for good practice electronic patient records’ at www.dh.gov.uk.

When buying paper — in the form of loo rolls, towels, stationery, and so on — look out for recycled products. These are becoming more sophisticated as the market in recycling accelerates. Most internet sites on recycling (details of some below) give details of your nearest recycling points.

The current high profile of recycling — and financial penalties for missing targets on reducing landfill — is prompting some local authorities to be more creative about how waste is collected. But not in Thanet, Kent, where Dr Akyol practises.

‘I would like to be able to pre-sort my rubbish into paper, wood, metal and food,’ he says. ‘But that isn’t how it is collected here. I think it would be a perfectly reasonable system.’

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