Jeremy Hunt has enlisted a US professor to review the digital future of the NHS to keep it from falling into “elephant traps”

Lis Evenstad in Computer Weekly 2nd November 2015 reports : Jeremy Hunt has enlisted a US professor to review the digital future of the NHS to keep it from falling into “elephant traps”

In the Information age we cannot expect patients to put up with the loss of notes, images or reports which accompany many hospital visits. NHSreality advises patients to ask for copies of reports so that they can give / show them to other doctors and their GP. Even take a digital image of your own X ray to ensure it is not “lost” in the system. Incremental change in IT is much less risky than revolutionary change, and the experience of GPs (computerised for 25 years) seems to count for nothing with Mr Hunt. America has as many failures as the UK… Why not an expert from Singapore, which has a live working holistic and universal system? UK IT in the Health Services is still in the dark ages..


Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that a US “digital doctor” will undertake a review of the digital future of the NHS due to be published next summer.

The review will focus on “the critical lessons we need to get right as we move to a digital future,” said Hunt in a speech at a Health Service Journal event on 29 October 2015.

The review will be done by Robert Watcher, who Hunt calls an “expert on the promise and pitfalls of new IT systems”.

Watcher is the interim chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of The Digital Doctor, which looks critically at the rise of healthcare IT systems in the US.

Hunt said the review will be similar to the Berwick review on clinical safety in the NHS, which was undertaken by Don Berwick in 2013.

“[Watcher] will guide and inspire us as Don Berwick did on safety, and we look forward to receiving his report next summer,” said Hunt.

Computer Weekly understands the idea for the review came as Hunt, together with NHS England officials – including director of patients and information Tim Kelsey – visited San Francisco in September 2015.

Hunt said there has been a vast improvement in digitising records in the US, thanks to President Obama’s Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, but the change has “met huge resistance from doctors because of the extra burden that can reduce contact time with patients”.

“For many doctors it feels like screen contact has replaced eye contact,” he said.

In his speech, Hunt listed what he called four “elephant traps” the NHS needs to avoid, including bureaucracy.

He quoted a US study which filmed 100 patient visits and found that clinicians spent one-third of their time looking at the screen instead of the patient, and highlighted a US hospital that tried to attract applicants by using the fact that they “had no electronic medical records” as a selling point.

He also said he was aware that “some think the IT system at Addenbrooke’s Hospital helped tip it into special measures”, referring to the action taken at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust by foundation trust regulator Monitor in September 2015.

Monitor is now investigating the trust’s finances and its £200m eHospital programme.

“The lesson here must be to ensure that new IT systems improve rather than reduce clinician productivity – so that it helps rather than hinders them in their jobs,” Hunt said.

According to Hunt, the second trap is accountability. He highlighted the patient safety failings at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and the Mid Staffs scandal.

“One of the best reasons for investing in digital records is to allow communication between multi-disciplinary teams in different organisations for patients with complex needs,” he said.

“But by making cross-team and cross-agency working easier, there is also a risk that accountability to the patient is blurred.”

The third and fourth traps mentioned by Hunt were costs, where he mentioned Connecting for Health, which cost billions and “came to virtually nothing in our biggest ever IT disaster”, and data security.

The Care Quality Commission is currently undertaking a review of standards of data security across the NHS, which will be completed by January 2016.

“We haven’t always got [IT implementations] right, especially when it has interfered with, rather than enhanced, the relationship between doctor and patient,” said Hunt.

Doctors should have electronic records everywhere possible. It will reduce mistakes and litigation. GPs have been paperless for 20 years..

3 years and millions of pounds later – Tim Kelsey moves on. Just what has he achieved?

Incompetents lead IT change into vast cash losses, and need to be disbanded. This is one area which should be privatised..

Your notes are the property of the secretary of state – but he has never had them before until after death. Now he and the PM want them and their “data” before death.. is any IT handling safe in government hands?

Will an anti-innovation culture in the NHS kill off technological progress?

Private: Modernise or vanish, Google warns NHS and Google pulls out of secret deal to show data on NHS hospitals



This entry was posted in A Personal View, Stories in the Media on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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