Computer access for hospital doctors poor, say BMA

  • 7 June 2005

Some hospital doctors are expressing concerns that they do not have enough access to computers and e-mail to do their work, raising problems of patient confidentiality as many terminals are situated in public areas or have multiple users.

The claim comes as part of a motion put forward today at the British Medical Association’s Staff and Associate Specialists (SAS) committee. According to the proposers of the motion, the lack of computer or office facilities could cause sensitive information to be left in inappropriate areas.

Speaking to E-Health Insider, Dr Awani Choudhury, deputy chairman of the BMA SAS Committee, said that the problem for the UK’s 12,500 hospital doctors was part of a wider one of general access to office space and storage.

"I am one of the lucky ones," he said. "In some of the hospitals they do their work in corridors. There’s no place to sit down."

Only "a handful" of staff and associate specialist doctors had access to their own terminals, he explained, with many having to share computers with around eight or nine other healthcare professionals – and this was the case throughout the UK, according to his experience.

"The main concern is that they will need to be able to have a secure place to look at records at their convenience," said Dr Choudhury.

Dr Choudhury said that plans by the National Programme for IT to introduce a smart-card system through which doctors can access patient records on any terminal were a positive step to reducing the problem, but only if there were enough terminals on site.

For instance, in a team of four associate specialist doctors, there ought to be a minimum of two terminals. More often, however, there tended to be only one computer per ward. (NHS organisations, not the national programme, are responsible for hardware.)

"The whole infrastructure has been designed in a very haphazard manner," Dr Choudhury said. "If the government wants everybody to access information at very short notice, they have to provide the doctors with equipment."

He added that many doctors felt afraid to speak out publicly about their access and storage problems. "Doctors are so frightened, they don’t want to have the name of their hospital used as they are absolutely sure they will be singled out by managers. The culture of fear is enormous across the board."

Dr Elizabeth Bailey, also of the BMA’s Staff and Associate Specialists Committee, added: "Without a secure working environment it’s very hard to ensure that no-one else can see sensitive information. I’ve met hundreds of SAS doctors and this is a very common problem."

The problems of access to computers for hospital doctors mirror the experiences of many nurses. According to a survey carried out by the Royal College of Nursing two months ago, nearly one in five nurses had no access to the internet and 15% said they had no computer access at all.

The motion is due to be discussed at the annual conference in central London today. Other issues on the same topic that will be discussed include lack of administrative support and hand-washing facilities for SASs.

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