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E-health FAIL: £1.59 iPhone apps dole out drugs to kids in A&E

Stop watching Star Trek and get some blood on your screens

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Children arriving at A&E are having their drug dosages calculated with a £1.59 iOS app which has not been certified and whose use is not monitored. It has been downloaded more than 500,000 times. This statistic was offered as an example of the development of "electronic health" technology at present at the Future World Symposium in London this week.

That particular app is probably perfectly safe – it calculates adrenaline dosages within three clicks and comes from an established company – but with no one scrutinising what doctors use, the next one might not be so reliable.

Medical professionals are starting to worry that efforts to create starship Enterprise sick bays will end up wasting resources and directing attention from the dull analysis of data that can save lives today.

That's according to experts the London symposium. The great and the good from the UK electronics industry were told to stop making fanciful videos showing diabetic patents using high-tech gadgets to monitor already controlled conditions.

Engineers were also urged to stop waiting for interoperable standards and just get on with making multifunction kit that can withstand the blood and guts of a real hospital. Their tech also has to run software that has been certified by the same kind of approval process applied to the rest of the medical tech cupboard.

The "worried well", who generally are expected to fund the industry by buying the latest gadgetry and presenting their doctor with a complete medical breakdown, were described by Keith Errey of Isansys as "a bunch of attention seeking old-style hypochondriacs and neurotics" if they existed at all.

Errey pointed out that anyone arriving at hospital clutching a home-printed ECG would be immediately connected to a trusted ECG machine, rendering the original scan pointless.

It was also Errey who listed all the various oozes one must expect medical equipment to cope with, complete with images for anyone still imagining Dr McCoy at work, although he did suggest that the tricorder might already exist – not as a single thing, but as an amalgam of the data already being collected if only it could be properly analysed.

That was a call repeated by the other participants, and culminating in a call for the NHS Spine – a project to computerise all NHS health records – to be completed and placed under patient control. The idea of the spine is that every citizen would have a medical record they could choose to share with medical practitioners, perhaps throwing some of their self-gathered data in too for the doctors to ignore.

But like most monolithic IT projects it has suffered from huge implementation and human problems which combine to make a laudable ideal all but impracticable even if it's the thing that would save most lives.

When it comes to electronic health most of us are still thinking of slick videos populated with media-friendly diabetics, flashing touch-screens and smiling doctors in clean white coats. Sadly the reality is that the life of a child may depend on an iPhone app while millions of dollars is spent developing diagnostic gadgets aimed squarely at the very-rich-but-critically-ill demographic... and that never happened on Star Trek. ®

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