How tech bugs could be killing thousands in our hospitals

2019-02-28 05:10:04

Blend Images/ERproductions Ltd/Getty By Chris Baraniuk IT ALL started with a sticky note. Harold Thimbleby was visiting one of his students in hospital when, amid the flowers, grapes and cards, he noticed an infusion pump in the corner, a device used to feed fluids and drugs into a patient’s blood vessels. On the pump was a note that read “don’t press these buttons” – an awkward warning suggesting hospital staff might be having trouble using it as intended. Technology is everywhere in healthcare, and it is a potential source of bugs as deadly as any virus that might stalk a hospital corridor. That much was driven home in the UK earlier this month, when health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced to Parliament that a computer glitch meant an estimated 450,000 women who should have been invited to breast cancer screening appointments since 2009 had not been. “Tragically, there are likely to be some people in this group who would have been alive today if the failure had not happened,” Hunt said. Until now, Thimbleby, a computer scientist at Swansea University, UK, has been something of a lone voice with his warnings about the dangers of misused technology in healthcare. But if his analysis is right, it is a problem that goes far beyond just cancer screening, and it could be putting thousands of lives at risk every year in UK hospitals alone. That’s the bad news. The good news is that by taking a thorough look at hospital technology and drawing lessons from other industries where safety is critical,