Month: May 2023

Electronic health records: Don’t under-estimate the importance of implementation and staff training

One of the most significant changes I have witnessed during my medical career is the introduction of electronic health records (EHRs). While they have brought many benefits to the NHS, patients and clinicians, they have also posed some challenges.

On the positive side, EHRs have made medical records more legible, accessible and secure. Many doctors and patients will remember the era when a patient’s medical record was often “missing” when they attended for an outpatient appointment. This made the management of the patient more difficult as the clinician attending the patient did not have all the information they needed; usually requiring the patient to return at a later date when hopefully by which time their medical records would be found.

With EHRs, in contrast, clinicians can access patient records from anywhere at any time, which has made it easier to provide care to patients in different locations. EHRs have also made it easier to conduct medical research, as they allow researchers to access large volumes of data in a more streamlined manner. Quality improvement has also been enhanced as EHRs make it much easier to measure the quality of healthcare and the impact of any interventions and change to the provision of health services.

However, EHRs have also forced clinicians to modify how they work, which is not always a positive change. The increased use of technology in healthcare for example can sometimes result in decreased interaction between clinicians and patients; as the clinicians is often focused on reading the EHR and entering new data. In addition, the use of EHRs can be time-consuming, as clinicians have to enter information into the system, which can increase their workload.

Another potential issue with EHRs is the risk of data breaches, which can compromise patient privacy and confidentiality. Cybersecurity is a major concern for healthcare providers, and it is important that they take appropriate measures to protect patient data. We have seen example in the NHS of significant data breaches which have disrupted the delivery of health services and compromised sensitive patient information. We have also seen examples of major IT failures (for example, during the heatwave in the summer of 2022).

Despite the challenges associated with EHRs, they are here to stay. It is crucial that healthcare providers adapt to this new way of working, but also that the systems are designed in a way that minimises the burden on clinicians while maximising the benefits to healthcare providers and patients. The ongoing development of EHRs and other technological advancements must always prioritise patient care and safety. This means designing IT systems with adequate input from staff and patients; and ensuring that sufficient time and resources are devoted to areas such as implementation and training.

Why the NHS needs to put the joy back into being a doctor

A complaint I often hear from colleagues is that “the NHS has taken the joy out of medicine”. Modern healthcare delivery is increasingly seen by NHS staff and by patients as an industrial-type activity with strict performance targets. This has resulted in many healthcare professionals feeling that they have lost the much of the flexibility and autonomy that was once a defining characteristic of their professions.

This feeling can also concern patients, as they may feel that they may not be receiving the personalised care and attention that they feel they need. The focus on targets, metrics and finances can create an environment where patients feel they are being treated as numbers rather than as individuals with unique needs and circumstances.

It is important for politicians, NHS managers and clinicians to acknowledge these concerns and work to address them. While performance targets, metrics and financial monitoring are important tools for measuring the effectiveness of healthcare delivery, they should not be the only focus of the NHS. Healthcare professionals must be given the freedom and flexibility to exercise their judgement and provide personalised care to their patients.

The NHS should also work to ensure that patients are seen as individuals with unique needs and circumstances, rather than simply as numbers on a spreadsheet. This can be achieved through providing adequate resources (both financial and personnel) fpr the NHS, better training for healthcare professionals, improved communication with patients, and greater emphasis on patient-centred care.

Ultimately, the goal of the NHS should be to provide high-quality, personalised care to all patients. This requires a shift in mindset away from the purely target-driven approach we often see in today’s NHS towards a more holistic approach that prioritises the needs and well-being of patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Uncertainty in public health and clinical medicine

I joined Twitter 10 years ago in May 2013. One of the lessons I’ve learned from social media is that too many people want “certainty”. But in public health and medicine, there often aren’t certainties; just probabilities of certain outcomes or unknowns due to a lack of evidence. This can be frustrating for people who are looking for clear answers, but science is a process of discovery, and there is always more to learn; either from new research or from summarising and synthesising evidence from current and past research. By looking at the existing evidence, we can make informed decisions about our health and the health of our communities.

Uncertainty is a critical aspect of scientific inquiry and helps researchers refine their understanding of health-related issues over time. Uncertainty can arise due to factors such as incomplete data, limitations in research, or the complexity of the systems being studied. Another way to deal with uncertainty is to be open to new information. As new research is conducted, we may learn more about the risks and benefits of different interventions. It is important to be willing to change our minds in light of new evidence.

Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing can be done to address health issues. Rather, it means that we need to rely on the best available evidence and make informed decisions based on that evidence, while recognising that there may still be unknowns and potential risks. Communicating clearly and transparently about the state of evidence, the limitations of that evidence, and the potential implications for health can help build trust and ensure that people have the information they need to make informed decisions about their health.

Finally, we are all in this together. Public health and medicine are complex areas, and we need to work together to find solutions. By working together and gaining public support, we can have a positive effect on the health of our communities.

The academic publication process: how it works

I am sometimes asked by junior researchers or by the public how the publication process for academic articles works. The academic peer review timeline varies depending on the journal, but it typically takes several months (sometimes even longer) from submission to publication.

1. Submission: You submit your paper to the journal. Make sure your paper is well-written, checked for spelling and grammatical errors, follows the journal’s style and formatting requirements, and that you submit your paper to a journal that is a good fit for your work.

2. Initial screening: An editor at the journal reviews your paper to make sure it is within the scope of the journal & meets the journal’s style and formatting requirements. Some articles are rejected at this stage, without external peer review (particularly, by larger journals).

3. Peer review: The editor sends your paper to one or more external experts in your field for review. Reviewers are asked to assess the originality, significance, rigour of your research methods, & the validity of your work. They may suggest revisions to your paper or rejection.

4. Initial decision: The editor reviews the reviewers’ comments and decides whether to accept, reject, or revise your paper. Acceptance without any revisions is unusual and generally, the authors have to respond to the comments from the referees and editor, and revise the paper.

5. Revisions: If your paper is accepted with revisions, you will be usually given a deadline to make the necessary changes. When sending back your revised paper, it is also normal practice to send a letter explaining how you have changed the paper in response to the comments.

6. Your response. Respond promptly to reviewer comments. Make sure your revisions are comprehensive and address all of the reviewer’s concerns and any comments from the editor. Be respectful and cooperative with the editor and reviewers.

7. Final decision: Once your paper has been revised, it may be accepted without further changes; you may be asked to revise it again; or it may be rejected. If accepted, the editor will send you a copy of the proofs for your final approval. This is your last chance to make changes.

8. Publication: Once you have approved the proofs, your paper will be published in the journal. Some journals (such as the BMJ) offer readers the opportunity to comment on a paper. It’s important to respond to these comments, which may sometimes highlight problems with your paper.

9. Responding to comments. When responding to comments, aim to be polit and respectful in your reply. Some comments can be constructive and others can be very critical of your paper. This post-publication review of a paper is an important part of the academic publication process.

10. The total time it takes to go through this process can vary from a few months to a year or more. It is important to be patient and to follow the instructions of the editor and reviewers. By doing so, you can increase the chances of your paper being published in a high-quality journal.