What has medical technology ever done for us?
Last week’s NHS hack was frightening and it raises a swathe of extremely important questions about Britain’s readiness for cyber-attacks. The full consequences of the international attack, and how they can be managed, is not yet known.
But Sarah Vine, with her usual lightening-speed analysis, has already come up with the solution: giving up on computers altogether.
‘What this attack proves is just how absurdly over-reliant we have become on technology,’ she writes in today’s Daily Mail. ‘How defenceless we really are.’
“One of the (unintentionally) funny and most telling moments in the whole saga was when media outlets breathlessly described doctors as ‘resorting to using pen and paper’, as though this was so outlandishly antiquated they might as well have been applying leeches. It was as if the idea of running a hospital without computers was, quite simply, unthinkable.”
Now, as Vine rightly acknowledges, some tasks — like writing letters or keeping a diary — can be completed either manually or using a computer. One might allow for more secure storage in the vast majority of cases, easier sharing of information with colleagues and greater legibility, but if doctors really want to keep writing their prescriptions by hand, then so be it.
However, running a modern hospital without computers is unthinkable — and rightly so. The function of hospitals is to save or enhance as many lives as possible, using whatever tools are available.
Vine says it is not so long since ‘the country, indeed the world, managed perfectly well without computers’ and certainly a great deal was achieved in the analogue age.
But here are some things that weren’t achieved:
- Robotic-assisted surgery, saving millions of patients the trauma of invasive procedures.
- Immediate printing of X-Rays, allowing rapid assessment of treatment options in emergencies.
- Instantaneous transfers of scans and other assessments between hospitals, allowing unprecedented cooperation between medical specialists, and streamlined care for patients.
Lazy tirades against computers in hospitals are not only laughable, they are offensive. The rapid development of medical technology has touched, and benefited, every family in Britain. It isn’t perfect, and never will be, but it’s much better than what was on offer even 30 years ago.
Moreover, Vine’s suggestion that pens and paper are not subject to security threats of any kind — fire, theft, forgetfulness — is blatantly ridiculous.
Yes, the NHS must be more prepared for cyber threats, since there will almost certainly be a next time. But those solutions must be designed to safeguard the tremendous advances of medical science and technology, not to hinder them.
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