Snapchat on a screen

NHS doctors resort to using Snapchat and other “technical fixes”, panel finds

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A new report scrutinising the dealings between the NHS and Google’s DeepMind Health has suggested that the health service has failed to move with the digital revolution.

The report was compiled by a panel of experts, chaired by Dr Julian Huppert, a former University of Cambridge researcher and Liberal Democrat MP.

The panel reported that doctors were made to share information through insecure and inefficient paper-based systems. In order to bypass these ageing communications systems, doctors were turning to potentially inappropriate methods to communicate with their colleagues.

“Seeing the difference that technology makes in their own lives, clinicians are already manufacturing their own technical fixes. They may use Snapchat to send scans from one clinician to another or camera apps to record particular details of patient information in a convenient format,” the report said.

“It is difficult to criticise these individuals given that this makes their job possible. However, this is clearly an insecure, risky and non-auditable way of operating, and cannot continue”

The digital revolution has “largely bypassed” the NHS, the panel reported. The investigators found that the average NHS Trust operates 160 different computer systems and clings onto outdated technology.

“The NHS, in 2017, still retains the dubious title of being the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines.”

The report was commissioned by DeepMind Health – owned by Google – and meant to examine the dealings between DeepMind and the NHS. While the independent panel commended DeepMind for its work, it also highlighted some concerns, including a number of technical vulnerabilities

In the past few days, the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that a data-sharing deal between DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust was illegal. This deal involved the data for 1.6 million patients being passed on to the Google-owned company without the patients’ consent or knowledge. This failed to comply with the Data Protection Act, the watchdog announced.

The data was shared to run tests for an app to alert doctors to patients at risk from kidney damage.

According to DeepMind Health, inviting independent reviewers to scrutinise their work is a “very unusual process for a tech company, but one that we hope will significantly increase scrutiny of our work and ultimately help us get it right.”

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