NHS staff: please enter password…
5 minutes and 30 seconds: the time it took this morning for me to turn on my computer and have open all the applications required to start my clinic. This process required six different passwords, producing the mounting frustration that is now an inevitable start to each day that I try to disguise from my patients. This battle continues throughout the clinic, with my time spent on a computer/dictating during one clinic session eventually totalling 2 hours and 30 minutes. Unfortunately, this is not unusual: in October the head of the Royal College of GPs reported to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, that it took her 17 minutes just to log on to her surgery computer each day!
But all this is apparently about to change with the UK government’s pledge of £40 million to transform slow log-in times. In a review by the government, some staff had as many as 15 different systems to log into. The hope is that this investment will reduce the time clinicians spend on administrative tasks and allow increased time for patient contact. One would hope that a reduction in the immense frustration of fighting ancient technological systems would, in turn, improve patient’s experience as well.
However, the problems aren’t limited to inefficiencies and frustration. Clearly, the issue of multiple passwords also presents a security risk, either with the all too familiar iPhone ‘Note’ containing a list of all the passwords you ever created, or with the same password repeated across multiple systems.
Chief Executive of NHSX, Mathew Gould, said: ‘tech should be something you rarely think about because it works’. This is a great sentiment, but it still remains difficult to envisage a day going by without the odd frustrated bang of a keyboard.
From the point of view of a frontline NHS worker, it is pleasing to see that these most basic technological shortcomings are being discussed and addressed by the Department for Health. This is a welcome change from the usual discussions of how investment in artificial intelligence will revolutionise the health service at a time that we are still the biggest global user of bleeps and fax machines (based on review data from 2018).
The money for such investment is now available, but this will not be a simple change. Each Trust has its own IT systems, the contracts for which will need to be changed and integrated individually. We must applaud the government for their tech-focussed approach and listening to the biggest complaints we report on the ground. But I think every NHS worker maintains a quiet pessimism scarred from previous promises such as ‘Paperless NHS by 2018’ (Jeremy Hunt), ‘Paperless NHS by 2020’ (Jeremy Hunt) and ‘Paperless NHS by 2023’ (Bob Wachter). Moreover, in January 2016 the government pledged £4.2bn to NHS IT, and if this didn’t manage to tackle the most basic IT issue of ‘logging-in’ then a certain scepticism remains that another £40million will do the job.
On the whole we must encourage the government to continue to invest in our basic technological needs and think about the future. Until then, I can’t help but feel the ‘Note’ of passwords on my iPhone is here to stay for now…
What are your thoughts? Will the new government investment plans into NHS digital innovation have the required impact?