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March 25, 2007

Observations on HC 2007

On the first morning of the Healthcare IT 2007 conference Lord Hunt, the Minister of State for NHS Reform and the man responsible for NPfIT, spoke. The withdrawal of NHS Connecting for Health's speakers from the conference led many to expect an important announcement--but they were disappointed.

Lord Hunt stressed the importance of healthcare IT in improving patient safety and the quality of care several times. He also stressed the importance of decentralisation and local ownership of the implementation of NPfIT, called the NHS Local Ownership Programme (NLOP), though he did not say what form this would take.

Nor did he say much on NHS CFH's procurement of Additional Systems Capacity and Capability, which will be a catalogue of specialist clinical systems available to the NHS, though representatives of NPfIT's Local Service Providers were listening carefully. You can read another view of his speech on E-Health-Insider.

I chaired a light-hearted debate on the motion : “To increase patient confidentiality, this house believes that patients should retain their own health records”. The motion was carried with a small majority. Though the debate wasn't serious the attitudes of some attendees to the motion were. After the event I was approached by a number of animated people with distinct views on the matter.

Simon Dodds (subject of a previous FHIT entry) spoke cogently about his successful IT enabled transformation of the management of leg ulcers. Simon has a background in computer science and is also a vascular surgeon—a rare combination. Nonetheless, he thought the process of improvement he had applied could be applied by others. He also agreed with me that people are not afraid of change, but of the process of change—which is often poorly effected.

Then We Will Fight in the Shade

Ancient Greek ruins touched by the rising sun.The Healthcare IT conferences in Harrogate may be an ember of their glory days, but one determined to continue glowing. Maybe in sensing that, I enjoyed HC 2007 more than its recent predecessors.

Given the UK release of the movie 300 about the battle of Thermopylae, it is topical for me to refer to a tale of ancient Greece.

The crowd jeers an old man looking for a seat at the Olympic Games until he reaches the Spartan section, when every Spartan younger than him, and some older, stand and offer him their seat. The crowd applauds and the old man turns to it and says: "Ah, all Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans do it."

I attended a couple of notable presentations and I’ll write something about them next. After 20 years in healthcare IT maybe I have become jaded, but many of the presentations reminded me of that tale: many know what to do, few do it.

March 17, 2007

Forward, Back or Blight?

Picture representing decision making.I have been occupied with work outside healthcare and it may be true what they say: distance enhances review. What I notice is how quiet the sector seems. Even the ever-alert E-Health-Insider is reduced to writing about the lifting of bans on mobile phone use. Nor am I the only one to comment on this. I have also come across a number of healthcare consultants taking similar time out. All mention frustration and lack of progress in the sector.

Has the leviathan that is NPfIT cast a giant restraining shadow over healthcare IT? A colleague recently described the situation as 'planning blight'. But it reminds me of a passage from Lord Macaulay's poem "Horatius at the Bridge" that my class read with Mr. Walker when I was about 11: "But those behind cried ‘Forward!’, and those before cried ‘Back!’".

I am preparing to go forward back to Harrogate for the HC 2007 Conference where I am chairing a debate. Last year in the plenary sessions speakers from NHS Connecting for Health hinted at reorganisations. This year speakers from NHS CFH's top team have withdrawn from the conference, generating considerable speculation. Nonetheless, Lord Hunt the minister in charge of NHS CFH's NPfIT will be speaking. Many will listen carefully to what he says.

March 11, 2007

Robots Demand Rights

Is it because, according to a study carried out on behalf of the UK Office of Science and Innovation's Horizon Scanning Centre, Robots could demand legal rights that I have experienced a sudden surge of interest in the possible use of robots in healthcare?

I have been interviewed twice recently by Professional Engineer (PDF 1Mb) and, for an article to appear next week, by Natalie Engler, Health Correspondent for Harvard Medical International.

Or maybe it's because the EU is funding a 2.5m Euro project into the development of robotic empathy: FEELIX Growing--FEEL Interact eXpress (!) Who knows.