Doctors and Nurses don’t understand code

Most doctors and nurses don’t understand the true power of code and how it can be applied. At the start of my clinical career in accident and emergency I used computer programs without thinking about them. As far as I was concerned there was magic running under the hood. I then went back to university and completed a physics degree. Step by step my math improved and I found myself passing final year quantum mechanics exams. I then turned my attention to computers and found my approach very different.

I now develop python programs, apply machine-learning algorithms and even published an app on the app store. Only now do I see the full power of coding and computer programs. Before I viewed programs as encased complex functions developed by teams after years of work. Of course this is still the case but I was blind to the other side of coding. If you think of coding and only images of groups spending long hours developing a program pop into your head then you have fallen into the trap that I was in before studying physics. It’s along the same lines as thinking all cars are modified race cars and all drivers are professional racers. We all know that there is a range of cars for different needs and a range of people using them for a range of purposes. This is the same in coding.

In my experience doctors and nurses shy away from coding because they do not know about the different levels of code. A low level code requires a lot of work and knowledge. It takes longer to produce a program and you usually need to compile it. You have to understand memory allocation; it is powerful and is the ideal choice if you want to make money selling software. However, if you’re primary aim isn’t to make money selling software just like making money off racing isn’t most peoples’ aim when they use a car you use will more likely use a high level language. These don’t have to be compiled, they run scripts, you don’t have to understand things like memory allocation and they are quick and easy to develop.

I’ve seen the effects of showing doctors and nurses a high-level language. When I ran a computing workshop for medics at a conference hosted at Imperial College London they were shocked that within 30 minutes they had developed a DVT wells score calculator. Eyebrows raise when they see a python script running through a database of 500,000 Amazon food reviews, sorting reviews that contain the words “wife” and “husband”, calculating the average rating and comparing it to the average rating of the other reviews. They then usually get excited when you tell them that this script usually takes about 40 minutes to develop.

We are on the cusp of a revolution. The average household has more computing power than NASA did when reaching the moon. The day doctors and nurses become aware of the different levels of code will be the day we will see an explosion in innovation and big data analysis by people who work on the front line.

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