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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Information Technology is not always useful in the NHS.

Finger on the Pulse
Telegraph article by Max Pemberton (a doctor).


"In the hospital where I worked last year there was much celebration when laptops were introduced on every ward, with all-singing, all-dancing software. The computers stood proudly on portable stands that could be wheeled from patient to patient. "Oooh, it's like being on the Starship Enterprise," was the response from medical staff for the first few days.

Did they make life easier? Did they improve patient care? Of course not. People forgot to plug them in, and the batteries died half-way through ward rounds. Or they were plugged in and nurses tripped over the wires. They kept crashing, then the system was updated and no one could work it. Then it wasn't compatible with the other hospitals' systems. Now the computers sit in the corner gathering dust, while everyone hand-writes their notes again.

Yet to question whether our reliance on IT is actually beneficial is a modern-day heresy. My concern is that as we integrate more and more of our personal data and sensitive medical information, an increasing number of people have access to it. Thus the possibility for human error is magnified and any benefit we may have gleaned from it evaporates amid the potential for serious personal loss and violation.

Plans for the ID card scheme continue to push ahead, and now the idea is to incorporate in them medical information taken from NHS records. This is in addition to the electronic patient register, set to be compulsory for every NHS user. There'll be no opt-out clause, which means that highly sensitive medical records will be accessible to more than a million NHS employees as well as to government bureaucrats. The pilot scheme was extended last week to include six more GP practices in Dorset, with others planned to follow.

Despite reassurance from ministers that our data will be safe, I don't believe them. How can they be sure? It's not as if their track record is particularly admirable (remember the two lost discs containing the entire child benefit database?)."