Big Data, A&E and Digital Hospitals

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting in A&E. Apart from being here to support a family member, my mind is keeping itself occupied by wondering about the experience of being in a hospital in the digital age. Let’s forget for a moment that the NHS is facing privatisation by the current government and that the IT infrastructure is so appallingly ancient that you have more modern IT accessibility in the supermarkets than you do in a hospital. Here’s what I’m left thinking…

A&E is boring. Like, really boring. Sure I have my smartphone, but there’s no WiFi to connect to and my data connection is all but useless in the building. But I don’t need the WiFi to just update Twitter and Facebook. I want to be able to access information which I wouldn’t normally want to seek out. I’m here surrounded by people with all sorts of ailments, and even the person I’m with, and have no reliable way to access that information until I get home. Yes there are problems of who will use the WiFi for what nefarious purpose, but let’s pretend we can be open about such things. I want to know what different conditions are, likely treatments, how can I access support, and just why should I have clean hands (if you don’t sanitise your hands while in and leaving the hospital, you’re basically asking for a life threatening disease to go home with you).

Carrying on with the boring theme, there is no reason we couldn’t have a dashboard available to patients in the waiting area of what’s happening in A&E right now. Like, how many other patients are waiting to be seen? What’s the spread of illnesses they’re here for? How many doctors are on duty? And nurses? Where’s the nearest toilet that’s not likely to be overused? How many ambulances are on call? You’re not releasing patient identifiable information, you’re just sharing the state of play. People can do something with that information. Certainly it would pass the time with far more empathy than sitting here with no information. No one likes a gossip hound. Especially on the internets which I can’t access.

Imagine all the hospitals shared their data about A&E. Now that’s big data. In realtime you would know all of the above but with far more insights than you’d know what to do with. A million people are visiting A&E because of norovirus during the winter? Sure that’s no surprise, but they’re all in Kent, Norwich, Newcastle and Lincoln? Well, maybe that’s not such a national concern.  The amount of money spent on cleaning the premises on a daily basis in hospitals would make most people stop and think about their actions in and around the hospital. The number of people occupying a hospital bed and the range of reasons for that would make most people stop their whining and be far more supportive of the care needed for people to get better.

Even if you locked down the WiFi, you could at least give me information which is useful. Your car park ticket is due to expire in five minutes. You’ve been waiting for two hours, why not visit the cafe for a drink? We’re facing problems with heating, please close the doors to keep the heat in. Last year we raised x amount of money for this cause, donate £3 by texting … Here’s a message from one of our patients which we’re proud of. For complaints, please let us know by clicking here. If you need someone to translate, click here.

For the hospitals that are also university hospitals, where students can come and learn medicine or nursing and become experts in their fields, open publishing of their research would be fascinating. The whole working out loud approach could take on new and interesting purpose and be implemented in some fascinating ways. Challenges facing the hospital for services, and using online collaborative platforms for development of ideas and strategies. Educating patients on what they can do about certain conditions by making e-learning accessible to them. Creating communities of practice based on specific care pathways.

For fun, and this is really pushing the boat, you could even gamify the experience of being in a hospital. Set tasks for people to do once they’re in, which they might even be accessing can via the hospital app. The rewards they receive are directly transferable to the hospital, or in some way improve the service you receive as a patient. There could be video content, podcasts, blogs to read, and all sorts of content available. For each achievement, maybe the hospital improves its knowledge sharing objective (because that would need to be a thing in this digital hospital).
I do love the NHS, and A&E departments do amazing work to help keep healthy and get them back home. But by God the user experience of being in one is so boring that I’ve had time to come up with the above ideas.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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