TECH: More wingeing Brits complaining about IT

Those damn Brits are whining about their shiny new technology again

As revealed in a joint investigation last week by Computer Weekly and Channel 4 News, after Newham Primary Care Trust in East London and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre at Oxford implemented a system from US supplier Cerner, some patients did not receive a timely appointment with a specialist because of IT-related problems. An enhanced version of this same Cerner system is due to be implemented across England as part of the NPfIT. John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office which investigated a report of a serious untoward incident after the go-live at Nuffield, said in a letter to MP Richard Bacon, "The [Cerner] system reported that it was printing letters inviting patients to clinics, and yet it soon became clear that far fewer people were turning up to clinics than expected as they had not received any notification to do so. "Conversely, other patients were turning up for clinics that they were not recorded as having been invited to. The impact of this was inconvenience to patients, wasting of doctor and staff time and a need to reschedule appointments. The missed appointments then resulted in a backlog of outpatient appointments building up." After a go-live at Newham hospital, details on patient appointments were lost – more than 110 of them for children. The problem was spotted in October 2004, but it was six months before health staff tried to contact parents of the children, and 30 were never tracked down. The incidents at Newham and Nuffield were not specifically the fault of the supplier or the trust, but happened for a variety of reasons.

Why they can’t just order in more pizza and fix it themselves, I (and Neal ) just don’t know. And while I’ve scooped MrHISTlk on this piece of tech news, (and that doesn’t happen often!) he’s clearly in the top 3 health care bloggers, whatever Fared says, and the link to the Patterson (Cerner) Pizza Memo comes via him.

On a more serious note, the UK problem sounds relatively trivial, but it appears that no one followed up to fix it. Given that Nuffield was one of the first to go live with Cerner and both London and the South are following (now that they’ve changed in IDX for Cerner) and with who knows what happening in iSoft land in the North West this problem needs to be jumped on pretty quick. The Brits are very attached to their health care system, but not so to major government IT initiatives. I still remember people telling stories about the ill-fated initial computerization of the DVLC (national car and driver registry) in the 1970s, particularly the mistaken registering by the new computer of a scooter as a “2 wheel fire engine” being featured on That’s Life (a consumer tales of woe show which was a British national institution). The UK is not like the US where a big governmental agency IT screw up won’t matter politically, and the NHS NPfIT is a) way behind where it should be, and b) losing the support of the doctors and the public.

It doesn’t do any of us any good (other than the total luddites) to see the major IT project in world health care go down in flames, especially as the vendors are the same ones as are working over here…

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