Dr John Mackay
British government plans for a multi-billion pounds national health service computer system is being hotly debated again, I see. A committee of British members of parliament has serious concerns about the delays in implementation of new IT system. They fear patient safety might be compromised.
More the other way round I suspect. National IT projects can seriously damage your health in the National Health Service (NHS). In theory it's simple, connect all the computers in the NHS, have a wonderful all singing all dancing system and people will have their lives saved. I doubt it. Well maybe better treatment. Probably not. Well maybe a bit more convenience and less time wasted by staff. That's more likely.
I cannot think of one occasion as a doctor when I have honestly thought that a better IT system would have made any significant difference to an individual patient as I am dealing with them. I can think of occasions when life would have been a bit easier and more convenient.
The problem with the current systems, especially in hospital is that they are out of date and old, but there are plenty of current modern systems available which will do a good job. Unfortunately all funding is now going towards the national IT project which will continue to take a long time to complete, and about which there remain concerns over the ability of any massive IT project to work successfully, and worries around confidentiality.
The principle sounds good for a national IT system, but we need a slow, phased approach. We need to continue to improve and support current systems and look to integrate and develop rather than jump in with both feet in a hugely expensive and highly speculative approach to computers in health care.
Current estimates suggest costs may be up to as much as £20 billion for the system. I think most patients, if they were asked, would want to see this money spent on cancer care, waiting lists and things like hip operations and cataract surgery rather than a computer system. And I find it hard to disagree with that. What do you think?