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A digital future without chips

 

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Friday, 4 September 2015

A digital future without chips

This week was Health and Care Expo, the NHS technology and innovation showcase, held in Manchester.

If you managed to miss the show, despite the hashtags and the hoopla, you have only yourself to blame. You don’t deserve any highlights, but here are a few anyway, to ease you into the weekend better prepared for the future.

Jeremy Hunt, present as a lifelike hologram, reiterated the importance of making the NHS fully digital by 2020. Digital records for every patient would be available by 2018, he promised, enabling health professionals to call them up at the touch of a button and allowing patients to access their medical histories.

How much will it take to complete a programme that has taken a decade and a half and billions of pounds and still reaches less than a third of the population? Mr Hunt couldn't or wouldn't say, though he assured us that it would be “affordable”.

Tim Kelsey, who is in charge of patients and information, is more digital even than Mr Hunt but less binary. Mr Kelsey, who has the anxious look of an IT manager who forgot to turn on the firewall before leaving home, admitted that the ambitions contained in his latest pamphlet will require the government to shell out some hard cash for NHS IT. As it is his job to deliver the digital future the day after tomorrow, Mr Kelsey would like to know that his mission is possible as well as affordable.

Mr Kelsey’s new 66-page publication is full of very digital ideas, including barcoding patients, which Mr Kelsey seems to think is the coming thing.

Barcodes on hospital patients' wristbands could make an important contribution to safety – storing details of medications and so on – but it all has rather a low-tech feel to it. Barcodes won’t solve the problem of the wrong wristband, for example, and if patients are asked to bring their barcodes with them all sorts of disasters could ensue. “According to your records, Mrs Jones, you are nearing your use-by date and should be consumed within three days of defrosting.”

A possible solution would be to make each patient’s unique identifier more permanent, in the form of a tattoo, perhaps. There may be some initial resistance to the concept of permanent barcoding, just as there was for the Care Data scheme, but people will soon come to realise that it's for their own good. If he wants to win the public over, Mr Kelsey will need to give some thought to where to put the barcode, so it is discreet but can be easily found in a medical emergency.

He might also consider adopting a more modern alternative. It will soon be compulsory to microchip your dog, why not your children?

Simon Stevens also talked about chips but was adamant they have no place in a modern hospital. Our gloriously lean leader wants fried potatoes and black pudding taken off the menu in canteens. He’d also like to close some of the less healthy franchises doing business on hospital premises.

Mr Stevens announced a £5m campaign to help NHS staff set a fine fat-free example to the nation and still found time to talk about non-food related areas of innovation, including the vanguard programme, seven-day services and “new ways of working with patients and communities”, but wisely he left the IT stuff to the holographic minister of state and the very digital Mr Kelsey.

Paperwork is clogging up the system, wrote Mr Kelsey in the HSJ this week. The average hospital spends anything up to £1m a year storing and transporting paper, apparently. Getting rid of it would make room for storing and transporting more patients and provide funds for Mr Kelsey to open a chain of barcode tattoo parlours.

It’s this sort of win-win approach to innovation that makes the drive towards a digital NHS more urgent than ever. 

Innovation editor: NHS Networks

@NHSnetworks
websupport@networks.nhs.uk 

 
Anonymous says:
Sep 07, 2015 10:04 AM

Microchipping is a seriously good idea for keeping track of patients. The civil liberties brigade will never let it happen, though.

Anonymous says:
Sep 07, 2015 12:18 PM

Can you even get black pudding in hospital canteens? Doesn't sound likely to me.

Anonymous says:
Sep 07, 2015 12:22 PM

I've had a patient with a barcode tattoo - but it was for his favourite beer.......

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 08, 2015 02:55 PM

Might not be what messrs Hunt and Kelsey have in mind, but it's a start.

Clive Spindley
Clive Spindley says:
Sep 09, 2015 07:07 AM

is that consumer health integrated pathways or the the greasy things you get served up when you are trying to trying to recover from a bad episode?

Clive Spindley
Clive Spindley says:
Sep 09, 2015 07:11 AM

Simon Stevens seems to be far more vocal on operational issues these days, when he started he was far more vocal about digital issues, what has changed his focus/mhind

Clive Spindley
Clive Spindley says:
Sep 09, 2015 07:14 AM

I suspect IT managers look a bit stressed because they have many sleepless nights, worrying about their projects (or like me, sleepless nights worrying about their and their families financial future)

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 09, 2015 09:58 PM

Clive, I don't think IT managers are the only people suffering from sleepless nights. There can't be many NHS staff who don't worry about the future.

Clive Spindley
Clive Spindley says:
Nov 21, 2015 05:14 PM

You are right, we are all patients or patients in waiting p.s. I'm taking care of a dog over Christmas, any tips on what I should feed her ? 9(app art from turkey of course ;-))

Clive Spindley
Clive Spindley says:
Nov 21, 2015 05:16 PM

make that turkey, consumer health integrated pathways and peas (a favorite on boxing day!)