Bill Harvey: Rage against the machine
Author: Bill Harvey
I was just finishing the final points of a lecture to give at this year’s European Academy of Optometry and Optics (EAOO) meeting at the weekend when news hit about a global cyber-attack affecting operating systems in 42 countries worldwide. This included our own NHS, with many hospitals and clinical services reduced to using paper-based systems and cancelling sometimes vital services.
The irony of this situation was that a key theme running throughout this increasingly important conference has been the evolution of technology in eye care. Lectures have included the development of amblyopia management strategies in paediatric optometry, the use of apps and online resources in education and the role of electronic apps in triage decision-making and diagnosis. As long as there is care with regulation of the use of those technologies that exert medical influence directly, I cannot see why we should not welcome the flexibility, adaptability, portability and, yes, security offered by such improved technology.
Security, really? A careful look at the recent crisis shows why the systems that were affected had been targeted. For some years now, experts have warned about the need for continual updating of the IT systems used by many of essential health services. Government has repeatedly ignored this request – Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was very publicly warned of this event likely happening over a year ago.
Possibly linked with a massively expensive failure to introduce a badly conceived IT platform some years back, it seems almost as if funding for health IT is viewed as a luxury. Hence much of our NHS relies on Windows XP and no longer receives regular updates and patches. I wonder how many readers are still using this? Security can only be assured with ongoing investment, ideally from someone with an understanding of how things work.
On a lighter note, hats off to our own Nick Rumney for his election as the incoming president of the EAOO. At a time of seeming national division, there is some hope in optometry at least to maintain a united front.