Healthcare should embrace everyday technologies and challenge clinical boundaries by using them, a senior academic told the Healthcare Computing conference in Harrogate.

Dr Jonathan Kay, a professor of health informatics at the City University, London, said that healthcare was too afraid of most everyday technologies but their success as external commodities could easily be applied to healthcare.

He gave the examples of e-mail, the internet, web architecture, mobile phones and automated identification as kinds of technology that people use everyday without noticing that they are doing so.

“When you go shopping your items are scanned based on their individual barcodes, we send e-mails to each other on a day-to-day basis, we surf the web and do internet shopping without hesitation, so there should be no hesitance to bring in everyday technology into healthcare – unfortunately there are a number of barriers preventing this being successful.”

Dr Kay told the audience that there had been a slow adoption of the technologies and a resistance to adoption was occasionally found from trusts and chief executives. He claimed there was a ‘structural bias in ICT departments against them’ and an obvious ‘lack of engagement.’

He stressed that the new everyday technologies were an easy, practically training-free way of speeding up the healthcare process and trusts should make every effort to embrace them.

On e-mail he said: “This is in place and widely used but there are too many fears around security, ICT departments are afraid despite guidance and statute law. There are big fears about security, about breaking the organisational ICT policy or a GP’s duty as a Caldicott Guardian. In my opinion, there is a bias against the new medium, with a long period of hybrid working and related inefficiency. It’s time for a double think.”

On the internet Dr Kay added: “There are so many things you can do with the internet, from pointing patients to useful information to using web-based browser systems for administration purposes – access can be split between internal and external and remote access can be set up. However, again there are too many proprietary components, gateways and firewalls, age and longevity of clinical information systems and of course there are people who just don’t get it!”

Dr Kay also felt that mobile phones should be better used and people should take note of the Department of Health’s (DH) decision to lift the mandatory ban on the phones being used in the hospital

“MHRA guidance on lifting mobile phone bans has been in place for years, but they don’t appear to have been taken note of. Everyone carries a phone on them, and so it makes sense for the DH to lift the ban and for staff and patients alike to use them to have fast and easy communications at the point of need.”

An area where Dr Kay feels especially passionate is the use of auto-identification and data capture (AIDC) technology. In his own trust, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals, barcodes are being used on patients, and he backs the DHs bid to embrace them

“There are a lot of common products already bar-coded and where I work we have found you can use them to keep track of movements of patients, equipment, staff and even records. There is so much of this excess mature technology and expertise waiting to be used. Patients are familiar with the technology from seeing barcodes being scanned and so expect them when they are unwell.”

Dr Kay that even staff felt comfortable with the technology as a useful tool aiding them with their work.

“It is of value to the staff and their tasks, it is very familiar to them so they overcome discontinuities and find it encourages simplification of processes.”

Dr Kay is sure that using everyday technology to challenge clinical boundaries can bring great benefits.

“They are quick, easy and cheap – all very important. They have low entry, training and switching costs. staff can overcome discontinuities, geographical, historical or organisational barriers and it will help to trap or prevent errors, not just record them, we should be optimistic, unlock the barriers and look for a rapid implementation.”