We all have days when we have to hunker down and achieve mental dominance over a paper mountain, right? GPs certainly used to get through a lot of paper. In ye olden days, medical records were folded into thick bundles and stuffed into burgeoning dysentery-beige coloured envelopes, filed on shelves and left to gather dust until the day when they would be levered out with a shoe horn, no doubt bringing with them several other unwitting sets of notes, all spilling out onto the floor in a horrible messy confidentiality soup.
Join me in breathing a sigh of relief that this frankly Dickensian system no longer exists (other than as a very real back-up, but don't tell!). Now we have shiny bicep-flexing computer-based records which are 1- legible and 2- not an offensive colour.
I'll admit we still have a few stray bits of paper in our daily admin. Little notes from patients (cute right?). Prescription slips (less cute, but v important). Letters from drug companies (certainly not cute and rarely important). Junk mail (just - no words). We tear up and use the blank bits of the envelopes for scrap. The bits with patient details on go into filing or confidential waste. Once a month, Paul from Shred-it takes away these papers for shredding, leaving, Santa-like with a cheery wink and the sack over his shoulder.
Let's be honest, paper isn't great at many things. I realised this today whilst helping my junior editor run a toy train over a countryside scene printed onto an unimaginably large paper mat. Within seconds the train had performed its signature handbrake turn, tearing a gaping hole in the paper. Though mercifully away from the crime-scene I was of course responsible for the cleanup operation, which resembled folding an OS map in gale force winds, at speed, and gunpoint. The moral of this fairytale ending is that paper is not particularly strong. The jury remains out on whether or not it's as soft and long as Andrex claim (other, more environmentally friendly brands are available - have you seen Who Gives a Crap for example??).
What about letters? Removing my Jane Austen romantic-tinted spectacles for a sad moment, I acknowledge there is an eco-friendlier alternative. I'm talking emails of course. But oooh here's the sting: even emails have a carbon footprint. Science bit now folks: remember carbon footprints are calculated by looking at the fossil fuels used to manufacture any item, to package and transport it. And emails come from computers or phones, which are made in factories and put in dreadful polystyrene packaging, then shipped overseas. But the good news is that whilst a letter has a footprint of 29g CO2, an email without an attachment is just 4g. Don't go adding an attachment though, cos that could take you past snail mail all the way to 50g. And the real horror is that a spam email - even if you don't open it - is 0.3g. Unfair right?
And don't forget those pesky servers. When we send an email it goes through a network (which runs on more electricity) and is stored in the "cloud". Ok ok, perhaps too soon to mention clouds given the weather disruption recently (thank you storms Dennis and Ellen). The servers whirr away day and night. Think how much electricity that uses (I'll give you a clue, it's a lot, and as we virtually store more and more, it's getting bigger). Essentially, 65 emails is about the same as driving 1km in a car. That's like going from York to well, somewhere else in York.
What can we do to help? Instead of asking your GP for a printout of your results, why not take a photo of them on your phone? Or sign up for online access so that you can merrily scan through your records during the wee small hours with a cup of Fairtrade cocoa. And don't forget to pick through your emails and click unsubscribe to stop the spam! It really is extremely satisfying. Especially if you have a chocolate Hobnob in your other hand. They're zero calories*. Who knew?!
*apparently I have to tell you that Hobnobs are not zero calories. And other delicious oaty chocolatey biscuits are available. When you find them, please bring them to Reception...