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Royal Society hopes ICT will save doctors' time

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The Royal Society has said everyday technologies such as mobile phones and personal computers should be used more in healthcare.

It has published a report, Digital healthcare: the impact of information and communication technologies on health and healthcare, which suggests the UK has been slow to adopt simple ICT in its healthcare system. It says that if these are integrated now the country will be better prepared to deal with challenges such as an ageing population and a shortage of nurses.

A variety of low cost technologies are already being used in the NHS, and the report recommends that existing and new technologies are continually monitored for their potential use in healthcare. This can make it possible for patients to receive expert treatment from their homes.

Professor Peter Wells, chair of the study's working group from the School of Engineering at Cardiff University, said: "Implementing low cost technology would enable doctors to save time due to less paperwork and missed appointments, nurses to make best use of their home visits, and patients to leave hospital sooner to recuperate at home as they will be able to check-in with their consultants using a personal computer.

"Healthcare is a partnership. If ICTs are embraced by doctors' surgeries, hospitals and people in their own homes the UK's healthcare system will be improved for everyone."

Professor Frances Mair, working group member and researcher at the Department of General Practice and Primary Care at the University of Glasgow, said: "Simple technologies can make a real difference. Hospitals for example, are already text messaging patients to remind them of appointments which saves hours of doctors' time in missed appointments. Webcam consultations' could also enable healthcare professionals to monitor patients which chronic conditions such as asthma in their own homes."

According to the report, there is some feeling of resistance and scepticism towards new technology in healthcare, both from patients and healthcare workers, due to a poor track record of design, implementation and integration with existing systems. This is compounded by a lack of training and involvement with those who will use new systems to ensure their needs are met.

A spokesperson for the Royal Society told GC News on 12 December 2006: "The report did not look at the the national programmes for IT in any detail, as many other reports have focused on these. The report's recommendations are aimed at a wide range of information and communication technologies but they are applicable to the National Programmes for IT."

Among the report's other recommendations are that:

  • attention should be paid to evaluations of the speed, scale and levels of user engagement of the national health service IT programmes in the UK;
  • government should monitor overseas developments to learn lessons from different approaches;
  • local and national health authorities should ensure sufficient funding and time is available for training and providing support for healthcare professionals;
  • national IT programmes should be developed incrementally.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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