Feature Round Table

The long march from fountain pens to wireless tablets: how data are changing medicine

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f4381 (Published 09 July 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4381
  1. Rebecca Coombes, magazine editor
  1. 1 BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. rcoombes{at}bmj.com

Rebecca Coombes reports on a BMJ debate about how to make the best use of clinical data

Clinical data lie behind some of the biggest recent health stories—from the survival of children’s heart surgery units in England to high mortality rates in NHS hospitals, but how can they influence the way we practise medicine? This question was the subject of the latest BMJ debate, held last month in London in front of a live audience (www.bmj.com/multimedia/video/2013/06/18/clinical-data-nhs).

Topics such as why data are still not widely collected or used and how to win round doctors who are convinced that data are a stick for management to beat them with were debated by our expert panel of clinicians, data specialists, and a patient advocate.

The experts were Simon Eccles, consultant in emergency medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital and former medical director for NHS IT; Phil Koczan, a general practitioner and chief clinical information officer for UCL Partners; Paul Altmann, chief information officer and consultant nephrologist, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust; Daniel Ray, director of informatics at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust; Martin Bardsley, director of research, Nuffield Trust; and Diana Scarrott, a public governor at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Do clinicians have enough good clinical data to work from? And can it benefit patients?

Simon Eccles: We’ve been treating patients without the data based intelligence that other industries would take for granted. I was on call recently and a patient regaled me with his fairly long medical history, and I admitted him for no other basis than that I couldn’t verify aspects of that [history]. It was an insane waste of resources and not in his best interests.

Phil Koczan: We’ve had IT systems for about 20 years [in primary care] and have an absolute mass of data in our system. The problem is turning those data into useful information and being …

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