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A bit of common sense could revolutionise NHS IT

Several years ago I took part in a pilot, which involved me, as a GP, sitting at the front desk in Accident and Emergency (A&E), listening to what patients presented with, and then (in theory) plucking out those with ‘GP type’ problems, to stop them clogging up the emergency department. It was a great idea and could have worked well, but for one problem: those pesky computers.

The situation was this: I’d have a patient present with, say, a sore throat, and tell the receptionist I could deal with it. The receptionist then had to physically move to another computer (the pilot was not on the A&E IT system) and then spend 10 minutes registering the patient. This was not just name and date of birth but seemingly every last detail, down to the name of their next of kin’s first school and the mobile number for their auntie’s cat’s psychotherapist.

Spending time at the front desk and listening to what the walking wounded pitched up with – colds, coughs, wrist sprains, UTIs etc – I’m pretty confident (without meaning to blow my own trumpet too much) that I could have gone through the queue like Noravirus through an old folks home and cleared most of it in under an hour. As it was, due to the mammoth task involved in registering each patient on the system, I ended up seeing about three patients an hour. It was not cost effective and so the pilot ended.

The problem was, once again, a long-standing gripe of mine: crap IT. In the ‘olden days’ we would have given each patient a registration form and clipboard, so they could fill out their details while in the queue and someone would enter them into a computer later on.

I realise we can’t return to those halcyon days of pen and paper, but maybe there could be some way patients could hold all their demographics with them, which could be easily transferred to a healthcare computer? Perhaps using blue tooth? (Not a phenomenon resulting from eating too many raspberry ice pops, for any of my fellow oldies.)

This would obviously require an electronic device that patients are always likely to have on. Oh, how about a smart phone? Revolutionary stuff here from the World’s Greatest Technophobe!

Sadly common sense and the NHS are about as likely to be found in the same sentence as ‘Donald Trump’ and ‘Greenpeace membership application form’ and so we crawl onwards, blindly.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London