The NHS Revolution – have we gone apps-olutely crazy?

In the early days of the mobile phone, we were satisfied with a monochrome calculator and a game of Snake. But the rise of smart phones has created an insatiable appetite for new apps, with Apple users alone downloading almost 20 billion apps in 2012.

In the 1980s, we started to see the NHS using IT to automate processes such as paper based tasks and analysis in pathology, genetics and radiology. Thirty years on and the NHS is moving to understanding the power of information in increasingly effective ways, for example, using IT for predicting health care needs for local populations or using apps to record blood pressure and temperature in order to reduce risk, rather than just for data analysis.

But with thousands of healthcare apps already available, the challenge is whether they can help us to meet the ‘Information Challenge’? Certainly the argument that NHS staff ‘are not technically minded’ has to be counteracted by technology being enthusiastically taken up by clinicians in many of the specialties from intervention radiology to robotic surgery.

This week, seeing a photo of footballer Wayne Rooney’s three year old son with a dummy in his mouth and iPad at his fingertips and watching my newborn granddaughter in her cot, made me wonder just how technologically advanced the next generation of medical students and patients alike will be and quite how high their expectation will be from our NHS.

You have only to look around and you will see that many parents have found that iPads and smartphones are fantastic distraction tools. Research shows that by the time children are two, six out of 10 are given mobile gadgets to play with. There are now toddlers baffled at why they can’t slide the images on a TV screen or why the pages of a magazine don’t move if you swipe them.

I read that in a recent survey it was found that 21% of four to five year olds can find their way round a smartphone but only 14% can tie their shoelaces. And why wouldn’t such digital devices fascinate them when they see their parents constantly using them?

Meanwhile, a recent report on A&E departments by the NHS suggested that the reason why there had been a significant increase in children’s accidents was due to parents watching their phone instead of their children.

The above statistics indicate that not only is the NHS notorious for being behind other industries in implementing even basic technology, but that the pace of technology and human evolution is moving at such speed that the health service stands virtually no chance in keeping up. That is, unless, we accept that millions of people are technology savvy and accelerate the speed at which technology is made available to those wanting and willing to use it.

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