Broken IT infrastructure undermines secure healthcare in the NHS


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In an article published in BMJJoe Zhang of Imperial College London and colleagues point to a recent 10-day IT system outage at one of the UK’s largest NHS hospitals and warn that increased digital transformation “means that such failures are no longer just an inconvenience but fundamentally affecting our ability to provide safe and effective care.”

They argue that unlike the acquisition of electronic health records, for example, investment in IT infrastructure (which includes computers, servers, and networks) is rarely prioritized and is easily seen as a hold-down cost rather than a productivity-enhancing investment.

Yet the consequences are significant, they write. A recent survey of doctors in the NHS, commissioned by NHS England, shows that the user experience of electronic health records is generally poor, which is caused by unreliable, slow IT.

The British Medical Association (BMA) estimates that a significant proportion (27%) of NHS doctors lose over four hours a week to inefficient IT systems. The BMA report also found shortfalls in investment and a lack of physician involvement in procurement.

Outdated infrastructure is a risk to data security, the researchers add. It is unclear how many providers comply with national guidelines by keeping multiple backups of data, including off-site.

There is also a growing disconnect between government messages promoting a digital future for healthcare (including artificial intelligence) and the lived experience of clinical staff dealing with persistent IT issues on a daily basis.

“This digital future will not materialize without greater attention to crumbling IT infrastructure and poor user experience,” the researchers write.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but the NHS can learn from approaches used elsewhere, they say. In the United States, for example, the impact of health IT on end-users is an active area of ​​research, particularly on how IT system functionality affects physician burnout and efficiency, while federal oversight of healthcare IT infrastructure can identify problems and coordinate response.

To facilitate the transformation of IT infrastructure in the NHS, “we need to include systematic and transparent measurement of IT capacity and effectiveness at the level of clinicians – the people who actually use the systems,” they explain, “as well as at the level of those who provide the systems.”

Armed with this understanding, quality improvement cycles must become routine in IT management as they are in clinical care, and governments must provide the investment needed to identify and correct poor performance, and also demand accountability, with minimum standards of IT functionality and stability . name

“We cannot tolerate IT infrastructure problems as normal,” they conclude. “Malfunctioning IT systems are a clear and present threat to patient safety that also limits the potential for transformative investment in healthcare in the future. Urgent reform is a priority for the NHS.”

More information:
Broken IT infrastructure is undermining safe healthcare in the NHS, BMJ (2022). DOI: 10.1136/bmj-2022-073166

Published by the British Medical Journal

Quotation: Broken IT Infrastructure Undermining Safe Health National NHS (2022, November 9) Retrieved November 9, 2022 from

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