This is a short discussion paper, I wrote for the UWE Faculty of Health & Social Care Journal "Inprint" based on my personal impressions of some of lessons and issues from the BCS NSG Conference, Sept 19th & 20th 1996.

The recent British Computer Society - Nursing Specialist Group conference, provided a reflection of changes which are occurring within healthcare computing in particular, and information management in general. The papers and debates illustrated a move away from considering technical aspects of computer programs and systems to consideration of the user and their needs.

Within healthcare the multidisciplinary electronic patient record will soon be upon us. The demonstrations of this, and the Integrated Clinical Workstation Simulator, placed emphasis on the use of these systems to provide clinically relevant information to enhance patient care, rather than collection of managerial data.

With the expansion of the Internet and the imminent arrival of the NHSnet and NHSweb the educational possibilities offered by these systems are also beginning to be explored. The NHSnet will be the message handling service of one of the largest "Intranets" in the world. This will include an administrative register of the population, providing demographic details based around the new NHS number. It will also collate "patient episodes" for contracting and managerial purposes, and handle email within the NHS. The obvious and high profile security implications are being overcome, but may influence the extent to which this will link with social services departments and the like.

The NHSweb will provide the "value added" component, using a system similar to the World Wide Web it will be able to provide reference information and, potentially, on-line education for all staff, at a time and place which is convenient to them. The logistics of this are still being resolved, but the implications for university Faculties of Health and Social Care could be enormous. The interactive and multimedia aspects available can stimulate students in a way which is difficult in any lecture. The fact that no travel or attendance will be required may also make it attractive to employers who have difficulty funding this from present and future budgets. The limitations of educational delivery without face to face contact mean that both teaching and learning approaches need to be rethought, and alternatives such as tutorial and peer support via email and teleconferencing become vital.

Some of the ideas raised at the conference may be thought of as the "brave new world", however most of the technology has already been developed and will soon be in place. The challenge is on the human side, for all of us to develop the skills and techniques required to utilise them. A final note, which many speakers referred to, is the importance of using these systems to achieve improvements in patient and client care, rather than using the technology because it's there.

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Document created: 26.9.96

Last updated: 3.9.03