A search on one fantastic piece of technology, the internet, suggests that technology can be defined as “…the application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives.” When I think about it, other than talking to our patients, most of what we do in medicine involves some use of technology. In fact, increasingly communicating with patients is even beginning to rely on it as well. As clinicians we have become highly skilled in the selection, development, and implementation of a variety of different technologies. These combine biomedical sciences with chemistry, physics, and engineering to create medicines, devices and systems which change the way in which we manage disease and treat patients.
Whether we are giving an immunisation, prescribing a drug, or imaging a difficult to reach piece of anatomy we are invoking the power of technology. Patients are increasingly concerned about their access to these technologies just as healthcare providers are progressively more focussed on the benefits and value of these often expensive items. These two factors combine to drive the adoption of innovative technologies, known to have a genuinely positive impact, and helps ensure that they become widely available.
Of course, more recently, technology in healthcare has become more synonymous with the implementation of computers to provide information, and intelligent systems for use in patient care. One thing that the NHS has historically lacked is good information about the patient and the service’s own activity. Does anyone know how many sprained ankles were seen by GPs last year? This is in stark contrast to many other industries such as aviation and banking and has made the strategic planning of services difficult. Despite the challenges this is changing, however, and as we see more digital information being captured and shared there are growing opportunities to develop more innovative uses for this information. Artificially intelligent systems which can warn of dangers to the patient, advise a course of action and help us all treat patients in a more consistent way are increasingly common.
Interpret it as you choose; technology has the potential to truly transform the way we manage, diagnose and treat patients. Importantly, it can have a real impact on outcomes for those patients in fundamental ways such as survival and complication rate. There is little more compelling a reason for the use of a new technology than the knowledge that your patient will do better as a consequence and there will be no greater advocate for them than the patient themselves.
The BMJ Awards were launched in 2009 and this year it has a new category, Transforming patient care using technology, sponsored by BT Health, and we are looking for examples of technology that have had a transformative effect on patient care. If you have developed or implemented a device, system, or other technology and have demonstrated the benefit that this has brought to your patients we would love to see you submit an entry. Particularly if you have improved safety and outcomes for patients, received positive feedback from patients, been cost effective and demonstrably increased efficiency in a UK healthcare organisation.
Getting technology to make a real difference on the clinical front line is a tough job, get the credit you deserve. I look forward to seeing your entries, but be quick, the deadline for entries is Tuesday 28th February!
Andrew Jones is a clinical specialist at the BMJ Group