The Medical Profession’s Resistance to Technology

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In this article in the Independent published today a great deal of excitement is rallied towards the NHS’s goal of being completely paperless by 2020. While this sounds great I urge you to question why technology has not been embraced sooner in the processing of medical data and information?

The self acknowledged benefits (and identification of slow adoption) are clear:

“The Government estimates that annual cost of paper storage is between £500,000 to £1m for each healthcare trust”

“Death rates at two major hospitals fell by more than 15 per cent when nurses were given handheld computers to monitor patients’ vital signs”

“Innovations such as electronic prescribing systems, which help doctors ensure the right medicine is provided to the right person in the right quantity can halve medication errors, yet only 14 per cent of NHS hospital trusts currently use such systems.”

Technology is a true enabler, specifically in the context of going paperless. Automating mundane tasks and eliminating human error, in any process, should be the constant goal. It saves money, and in the medical arena, it saves lives. There is a definite resistance to the use of technology within the fraternity – something bred into hospital and clinic systems and into the education of doctors. Even if individual Doctors see the benefits of reducing paperwork and documenting things in real-time, they are forced to accept the limitations of a greater system that is bogged down with paper. The resistance is not an overly conscious one but rather something that has been…wait for it..In-DOC-trinated. It is the fraternity that is stuck in their ways. Unfortunately this breeds a slow adoption to a better way of doing things and to a belief that a 5 year turnaround on a paperless system implementation is not only ok, but an achievement.

The frustrating thing is that there are options available…options that do not require massive implementation periods and excessive costs. More and more technology companies are finding better, more cost effective and agile ways to deploy solutions like the one the NHS requires. In fact, these solutions are equally applicable and deploy-able anywhere with offline modes that can even be used in disconnected rural environments.

2 of my very closest friends are doctors here in South Africa and in the extremely challenging African medical space, I have been witness to their struggles; resources, limited to a far greater degree than in the UK, and medical situations so extreme that international doctors annually spend training time in South African hospitals gaining experience they cannot at home. These extremes push the limits and test capabilities daily. Rather than this being a negative however I have seen South African doctors rise to the challenge and seen them adopting technology to limit administration and free up their time to do what they are best at – saving lives.

We need to start understanding that going paperless is not just an environmental thing. Do a search for “Paperless” and all that will be returned are images like the one below:


“Paperless” sold from an environmental perspective actually pisses me off. The majority of paper manufacture today is done on a sustainable basis and paperless for the environment should not be the primary driver for improving your systems. Now don’t get me wrong, I have completed a Masters in Environmental Science and I am all for solving environmental issues, but we need to grasp the idea that going paperless is not actually about the environment – it is about efficiency in general. We should also not be making such a big fuss about it. Paperless implementation projects should not be revered as great achievements. It makes no sense to use paper anymore – whichever way you look at it. Running paperless systems should just be the way things are done – finished.

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