SnapChat and fax machines – report finds that ‘the digital revolution has bypassed the NHS’

Written by Sam Trendall on 7 July 2017 in News

Report from DeepMind Health finds that health service has a haphazard hotchpotch of digital, paper, and other improvised systems

A report has found that the NHS buys more fax machines than any other organisation in the world, while its doctors use SnapChat to send patients’ data to colleagues. 

The DeepMind Health Independent Review Panel Annual Report characterised the health service’s technology and operational infrastructure as haphazard and piecemeal. A single trust, it claimed, could use as many as 160 different computer systems – as well as paper filing methods, and various workarounds deployed by individual staff.

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“The digital revolution has largely bypassed the NHS, which, in 2017, still retains the dubious title of being the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines,” said the report. “Many records are insecure paper-based systems which are unwieldy and difficult to use.”

It added: “Seeing the difference that technology makes in their own lives, clinicians are already manufacturing their own technical fixes.”

Such fixes reportedly include clinical staff using personal devices and consumer apps to share patient information.

“They may use SnapChat to send scans from one clinician to another, or camera apps to record particular details of patient information in a convenient format,” the report said. “It is difficult to criticise these individuals, given that this makes their job possible. However, this is clearly an insecure, risky, and non-auditable way of operating, and cannot continue."

This mixed and muddled system has evolved as a result of “digital solutions [being] laid on top of the hundreds of different ageing IT systems employed” within NHS Trusts, the report said.

The panel that compiled the report – which is intended to be a yearly publication – was funded by the Google-owned DeepMind Health entity. 

But, in his foreword, chair Julian Huppert, a former Liberal Democrat MP, said that the panel has complete autonomy and independence, and is free to spend its £50,000 annual budget as it sees fit. Other members of the nine-strong panel include ex-Government Digital Service leader Mike Bracken, and tech-focused venture capitalist Eileen Burbidge – who also serves as a member of the prime minister’s Business Advisory Group.

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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