Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Information Technology

Turning doctors into coders

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 20 August 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5142
  1. Jon Hoeksma, cofounder and editor
  1. 1Ehealth Insider, London, UK
  1. jon{at}

After the expensive failure of attempts to create national NHS IT systems, the government is turning to doctors and other users to help develop healthcare tools. Jon Hoeksma looks at the potential of teaching NHS staff to write software

Doctors who write software code, or have an interest in developing software, can have a lasting effect on the NHS. It was general practitioners who wrote the first practice software systems in the 1970s and as a result many practices have been digitised for years.

Now the government is planning to encourage medical professionals, patients, and NHS managers to learn to invent smartphone apps and system tools for the NHS as part of official NHS information technology strategy. Under a new initiative launching this autumn, called Code4Health, tens of thousands of people providing and receiving healthcare will be offered training to write basic computer code. They will then be able to design simple prototypes for tools they think could make the NHS work better.

“Over the next couple of years I expect something like 50 000 clinicians to have gone through Code4Health,” says Tim Kelsey, the newly appointed director of patients and information at the NHS Commissioning Board, who is in charge of the project. The exact details of the training and eligibility criteria have yet to be confirmed.

The Code4Health initiative is linked to the government’s belief in the transformative power of the “open source” concept, which is increasingly making data freely available for anyone to use and republish. Kelsey was previously the government’s transparency tsar and one of the founders of Dr Foster Intelligence, the health data analytics firm that uses the NHS’s Hospital Episode Statistics to create mortality league tables and the annual Good Hospital Guide.

Code4Health is modelled on the US not for profit organisation Code for …

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