Hospitals that are leading the way to a digital future

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1366 (Published 22 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1366
  1. Stephen Armstrong, freelance journalist, London, UK
  1. stephen.armstrong{at}me.com

Stephen Armstrong explores how the NHS is putting its hopes—and maybe some money—into a handful of hospitals to work out how to go fully digital

IBM’s Watson is one possible future for healthcare. It’s an augmented intelligence with natural language abilities—a constantly learning supercomputer that can read the latest research journals, examine patient referral letters, comb through records, dissect patient hereditary and medical history, and recommend courses of treatment. It is already being used for cancer patients in India and the US,1 but the company has yet to strike a deal with any NHS units. In part, this is because many NHS hospitals are simply not able to connect Watson to their creaking IT systems, which can’t even talk to each other.

As the NHS speeds towards a government mandated paperless world by 2020,2 hospitals are proving a stumbling block. Almost every general practice had 100% digital systems over a decade ago3 but hospitals lag far behind. In late 2015, all 239 NHS trusts and foundation trusts assessed their digital capabilities,4 revealing that “information in acute trusts is less digitised and less structured and they are less able to share information digitally” than primary care.5 There was a slightly improved picture among community trusts, and mental health trusts “seem further ahead.”

In September 2016 NHS England named 12 hospitals—including Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford University Hospitals Trust, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, and University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust—as “digital exemplars,”6 hospitals …

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