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Who can read the doctor’s writing?

GCHQ and the NSA can, but other doctors can’t

Who can read the doctor’s writing?

GCHQ and the NSA can, but other doctors can’t


A recent personal health scare followed by observations of my father’s deteriorating health — he suffers from the late stages of Alzheimer’s and, unlike me, struggles to communicate his pain — left me shocked at the lack of data in healthcare.

In my experiences, there is little note taking, and what notes are taken are rarely machine readable. If they are typed up, often by some poor drudge, then the information is not easily seen by other healthcare professionals.

What a waste.

Not just in time, but also in terms of lost opportunities for collaborating and solving health problems.

If I collapse now, and am hospitalised, the responding paramedic or doctor will have no way of knowing that my most recent health check showed that my heart rests at 57, my blood pressure is 117/76 and my blood sugars and cholesterol are better than average, yet for some unknown reason I occasionally suffer from what appears to be hypotension, which can lead me to pass out. Others in my family suffer a similar yet possibly unrelated problem. The doctor won’t know this though as I will have no way of communicating it to him if I pass out.

It’s not easy you might say, it’s hellishly difficult to stitch all that information together, and I forgive you as that was my first reaction.

But then I pondered: GCHQ and the NSA can.

The recent Snowden revelations show that both these organisations possess the capability to store and access your personal data in so many formats. And they can network yours with others and share it in real-time.

So if GCHQ can then why can’t the NHS?

There’s something not right here. GCHQ’s budget is thought to be around £1bn per annum, yet a £12bn NHS IT project that tried to sew up and digitise patient data was binned two years ago for being ineffective.

How about a change? What if GCHQ concentrated its human and computing processing power on solving healthcare’s conundrum — how to digitise and collaborate patient data — instead of assuming the innocent guilty while averting the very occasional and outlying threat of a bombing?

The former could save or improve 100s of 1,000s of lives; the latter probably no more than a few 100s.

Don’t ditch PRISM, refocus it on something useful.