With Great Healthcare Technology Comes Great Responsibility

The healthcare technology market is a very sensitive place to operate in; whether you are a care provider, or a Digital Health business. This isn’t the realm of the next Flappy Bird app.

There is a knife edge that looks like this: on one side is the huge potential to improve, on the other side is the risk of ruining a patient’s life.

The Soho, London based NHS HIV clinic, 56 Dean Street, was fined £180,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Officer for accidently leaking the email addresses of more than 700 users of the service.

The error occurred whilst sending out the September newsletter to patients and service users. Email addresses were added to the “To” field, instead of the “BCC” field. 730 of the recipients’ email addresses featured the full names of patients.

Patients recognised the names of other recipients, because the clinic serves a small location in London. Patients responded to the breach with fear that they could be black-mailed, or open to being publically shamed.

It was a simple error to make, but the impact is huge for patients.

No matter how established the technology, or how complex (from emails to PAS systems), there are risks to the use of technology in healthcare.

But, that’s not to say that we should not use technology at all.

Digital Health has the capability to put in place better safeguards, higher security, and more efficiencies than is present with current processes within healthcare.

Whilst, at one moment, you might be worried about the use of an iPad to view notes, a doctor is driving around doing home visits with a printed piece of paper that has a summary of a patient’s medical history and personal details on it.

Good Digital Health technology is about removing the potential for things to go wrong. Humans are not reliable. Instead, we can build tools to stop us from making mistakes. Whether that is decision support, alerts, passwords, encryption, or automatic locking of terminals.

But when things go wrong, there are very serious consequences. A bug, or badly crafted process, isn’t going to mean I will lose my Candy Crush score.

It could mean a clinician accidently prescribes the wrong drug to a patient.

The decisions we make as users and developers of technology in healthcare have weight. So, let’s all make sure we think very carefully about what we are doing.

It’s not above avoiding litigation. It’s about ensuring patients, service users, and citizens get the kind of care they need; safe, informed, and compassionate. Patients need to be able to trust their Fitbit as much as their nurse, or doctor.

Sometimes, though, we all wish we were building another Flappy Bird clone. Life would be so much easier…


James Barton

James is a freelance writer and specialist in Digital Health. He brings his perspective as a leader within a reknowned supplier to developments within the healthcare technology industry.

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