A suitable case for treatment

Insufficient testing is the bane of many a promising IT project, but in most cases it leads to nothing more than frustration on the part of the end-user.

Insufficient testing is the bane of many a promising IT project, but in most cases it leads to nothing more than frustration on the part of the end-user.

In healthcare IT the need for testing is much more important in that there can be serious consequences for patients if systems are not working properly. But there is very little regulation of products and services, or of their suppliers.

This contrasts with the regulations governing drugs companies, where more than half the typical 12-year development time for a product is likely to be spent on safety and efficacy studies before the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency lets it go to market.

The argument that IT systems are largely administrative and therefore do not require a similarly rigorous level of scrutiny does not hold water. In hospitals and surgeries, administration and patient care cannot be so easily separated.

As Tony Collins points out in It's about people, not just technology, delays to hospital appointments, for example, because of IT problems can cause emotional distress to patients and have potentially serious clinical implications.

Naturally everybody involved in developing systems wants to deliver benefits at the earliest possible moment. But every IT user, whether in healthcare or in business, knows that most systems when first delivered contain faults which need fixing before the system does what has been promised.

This danger of buggy systems can only be pre-empted by rigorous testing and remedial action before delivery, even it means delays. Patients, unlike business executives, do not have the luxury of withholding payment until problems are fixed.

They need the protection that can only come by an appropriate level of regulation of healthcare IT systems and services and of their suppliers.

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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