One of the critical factors for patient safety in hospitals, is that you've identified the patient correctly. The wrong medication given to the wrong patient at the wrong time could have serious, even fatal consequences. Patient wristbands are a start, but wristbands that contain barcodes are even better. According to GS1's website, in October 2013, it became mandatory in NHS England for all patient wristbands to contain a GS1 barcode. I wonder if we can improve even further?
A couple of things I've seen or tried recently got me thinking.
In the future, if you were due to go into hospital, what if you could get your hospital 'boarding pass' sent to your smartwatch 24 hours before your visit? What if when you 'checked in' at the hospital, a member of staff was automatically notified of your arrival, on THEIR smartwatch? What if when a member of hospital staff wearing smart glasses wants to identify who you are, they simply look at your smartwatch that's displaying your barcode?
Could that do even more to improve patient safety? Many observers continue to regard these individual technologies as crude & clumsy, and I'm right there with you.
However, when you stop for a moment, to imagine how they could be used together to do something that's never been done before, it makes you think. I ask you, what currently exists, that alone is not that great, but when combined with a couple of other technologies, solves your problem?
Or it simply a case of repurposing wearable tech to suit your own needs, as in the case of this creative friend of mine, Anthony Harvey who want to see if the Gear Fit is capable of something new?
Now add to the mix, Bluetooth 4.1 at the end of 2014. What will moving from the current Bluetooth 4.0 to 4.1 mean for hospitals? Well, in theory, your 2015 heart rate monitor/activity tracker worn on your wrist could send data directly from your wearable device into your medical records, via the cloud.
So even before you've arrived at hospital for your surgery, they could have much more data about you, compared to the hospitals of today. As you can observe, the role of data in providing the best possible care, becomes even more paramount.
How safe is your data in the hospital?
I shared an article on the Internet of Things via Twitter recently, and one of the people who engaged with me as a result was Scott Erven, based in the USA. He's done significant research into the security risks associated with the use of hospital equipment, and there's an eye opening WIRED article recently published about his work, and what needs to change.
Quoting from the article, how many of you are shocked to read his findings? "In a study spanning two years, Erven and his team found drug infusion pumps–for delivering morphine drips, chemotherapy and antibiotics–that can be remotely manipulated to change the dosage doled out to patients;
Bluetooth-enabled defibrillators that can be manipulated to deliver random shocks to a patient’s heart or prevent a medically needed shock from occurring; X-rays that can be accessed by outsiders lurking on a hospital’s network;
temperature settings on refrigerators storing blood and drugs that can be reset, causing spoilage; and digital medical records that can be altered to cause physicians to misdiagnose, prescribe the wrong drugs or administer unwarranted care."
It certainly gave me a wake up call. Now, I had a video call with Scott this week, and the conversation was illuminating. With Wearables and the Internet of Things touted as technologies that are going to lead to an explosion in data (about each of us), and ultimately, be used to drive potential improvements in health & social care, there is also a dark side.
Many of the articles, talks & press releases in Digital Health make it appear that this bold new world will be everything we've wanted in health & social care, it will be Utopia. Without stringent governance, accountability & trust, it could end up being our worst nightmare.
What if someone wanted to hack into hospital equipment, your wearable devices or your health data, because they had malicious intent? What if an organisation, or even one person wanted to inflict a terrorist attack, and cause a serious loss of life? Instead of bombs, would they simply sit in front of a laptop & exploit the cyber security vulnerabilities that exist today (and may still exist tomorrow) in hospitals?
What if someone wanted to specifically target you, by modifying your health records to show that you'd had a mental health issue? It was just reported that a British woman had her employment offer for Emirates Airlines withdrawn after they found out her medical records revealed an episode of Depression in 2012.
The UK has taken a bold step last year to publish the publication of mortality rates for individual hospital consultants in ten specialties. Greater transparency is to be encouraged, and hopefully will improve levels of care. Do we also campaign for publication of the hospital data breaches too?
Can we actually trust the data the government publishes? Look at the recent scandal in the USA, at the Veteran's Adminstration, where it's come to light that the waiting time for medical treatment was misreported.
A recent survey found that 50% of UK citizens don't trust the NHS with their personal data.
Today, when I speak to people around the world, who use any form of health & social care, they are primarily concerned about access, quality & cost. In the future, those people may be adding 'privacy & security of my data' to that list.
The Digital Health community, along with government, has to address this sooner, than later.
Quite frankly, I don't see the point of gathering all this data on patients, if we can't assure them, that we've taken every step possible to keep it private & secure.
[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties with any of the companies or individuals named in this post]