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If you want technology to work, involve those using it

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With any new technology – however much it may improve matters – comes risk. This is particularly true of healthcare because of the threat to patient safety should something not go as planned.

Research reported in NT this week reveals that barcode technology being introduced to the NHS may have flaws. A US study found that nurses were being forced to come up with ways to work round problems with similar technology.

Barcodes on patient wristbands could become unreadable because of being chewed or soaked – potential pitfalls perhaps not analysed by those developing the technology. As a result, nurses were carrying around duplicate wristbands and medications that could be scanned should the barcodes attached to patients or drugs become unreadable.

No doubt, using barcodes to match patients to their medication will have a positive effect and reduce human error.

But as with other initiatives – such as electronic prescriptions and the patient care record – they must be introduced with care and thoroughly road-tested. Otherwise, they could end up hindering rather than helping staff.

Everything must be done to support nurses to use new technology safely and effectively. One way would be to involve frontline clinicians from the outset.

Openness on training cash needed now

This week NT can finally reveal the true extent of raiding and underspending of NHS staff training budgets.

A Freedom of Information Act inquiry, part of NT’s Time Out for Training campaign, revealed in June that eight strategic health authorities had diverted £103m from training budgets in 2007–2008. The final two have now released their data – they diverted £61m from training budgets between them.

Moves to increase transparency on how nurse training funds are spent, mooted in the NHS Next Stage Review, must be introduced as a matter of urgency to prevent any repeat of such appalling practices that damage the profession.

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