What IVF treatment taught me about the NHS

What a way to start the week. Last Monday morning, someone working in the NHS sent an email and accidentally copied in 840,000 colleagues. This immediately clogged up the email servers — a situation made worse by fellow workers hitting “reply all” to complain.

Blunders such as this show how poor the IT systems are in the NHS today — and why there’s an opportunity to use modern technology to make our health service better.

The NHS is something like a national religion, and rightly so. I’ve nothing but admiration for the amazing care it offers, which I’ve got to see first-hand because my wife and I are going through IVF at the moment. Due to an issue on my side, we need medical help to have any chance of having a baby.

As readers will know, IVF is an emotionally gruelling journey and extremely intrusive for women (we men get off lightly).

But as we’ve found, despite wonderful support from NHS staff, the process is more stressful than it needs to be — in large part because of the absence of basic technologies that would make the experience less frustrating.

“Despite wonderful support from NHS staff, the process is more stressful than it needs to be — in large part because of the absence of basic technologies that would make the experience less frustrating.”

If you haven’t been through it these things might sound minor but here are some of the difficulties we encountered, which could all be fixed with simple digital tools.

First, hard-working administrative staff at our hospital aren’t supposed to send emails to patients. According to the rules, they can only send letters because “emails aren’t secure” — even though confidential post about our medical treatment regularly ends up at our neighbour’s house.

Second, it’s impossible to log in to a website to get an overview of where you are in the complex IVF process, or check which drugs you’re supposed to be taking that day. You can’t tell which of dozens of blood tests is outstanding, or which clinic you’re supposed to turn up to. We kept arriving at appointments only to be told we were missing a test result we had no idea we needed, which then necessitates yet another appointment and is hugely frustrating all around.

Third, there’s no way of finding out online when your next appointment might be, or changing the date. This means you’re constantly having to speak to someone in person — a total waste of staff time.

These issues make an already fraught period more painful. And throughout the process I couldn’t help but think about all those people who lose money every time they miss a shift to attend an appointment — and may even put their job at risk by doing so.

What’s more, I know from friends working in the NHS that they find its antiquated systems more frustrating than anyone else. That’s not surprising as they live with the inefficiencies every day.

Obviously, technology isn’t the solution to all our health system’s challenges. But simple digital tools — such as the ones used by modern organisations from airlines to supermarkets — would save immense amounts of time for patients and hospitals. Best of all, these reforms would free up our brilliant doctors and nurses to do more of what they want to do: use their expertise to look after people in need.

For the sake of all Londoners going through IVF, here’s hoping those changes happen soon.

by Rohan Silva
Originally published at www.standard.co.uk on November 21, 2016.

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