“If we think more clearly about computers, we can improve all of healthcare.”
In the automotive industry, if a potentially life-threatening fault is discovered in a product, the defective units are recalled and the fault is corrected in all subsequent iterations of the product. It would hold therefore that the same would be the case for the I.T and digital equipment in the healthcare industry. In a special seminar held within the School of Computer Science on Wednesday 11th January, Professor Harold Thimblebey of Swansea University demonstrated that often, this isn’t the case.
“Technical Debt” is a programming concept that exemplifies the negative outcomes of prioritising the quick implementation of code that may function adequately in the short term but lacks efficiency or effectiveness in the long term. Technical Debt can apply in varying contexts and to varying degrees, be it an Apple calculator app that crashes when performing any complex sums or a medical instrument with a glaring ergonomic flaw that can lead to potentially lethal misdiagnoses.
Over the course of the lecture, Professor Thimblebey detailed some of his professional experiences identifying instances of dangerous negligence in healthcare I.T and how unlike other industries, the blame for dangerous malfunctions tends to be levied at the users (nurses, clinicians and patients) rather than the distributors.
Examples cited across five major areas of I.T (Personal, Revealing, Trojan, Managerial, Apps) demonstrate how “elementary misunderstandings can lead to elementary mistakes”. At a time when there is a 16.9% likelihood that death will be caused by preventable medical error, the fact that such mistakes are so commonplace and that blame is so commonly misdirected is a cause for concern.