Applying your coding skills in the NHS

As the average household computing power increases, computing power cost decreases. As the Internet and high level programming evolves more and more non-traditional developers are learning code and using it to increase their productivity in their jobs. It’s no secret that more and more doctors are becoming interested in coding, tech development and software implementation.

All this is exciting, however; if you’re a doctor or a nurse you will be trying to implement something new in the NHS. The NHS is famous for slow innovation. This isn’t an attack on the NHS; there are legitimate reasons as to why this is the case. You have to consider data protection. It is also publically funded which means that it has to prioritise what it spends its money on, anyone who has worked in the NHS does not rave about the computer systems in place. The NHS is one of the biggest employers in the world, innovating in large organisations isn’t easy. Also the NHS (like most medical systems) is hierarchical. This is a consequence of medical practice and responsibility. Medical/surgical consultants take the responsibility of the medical calls they make. Sometimes these calls have to be made under pressure with limited resources and time. Although this hierarchical approach may be effective when practicing medicine it does stifle innovation. A testament to innovation being accelerated by lack of hierarchy is Google as it makes a point of giving fresh young grads leadership roles in their own projects. We have to remember that the NHS isn’t primarily a tech company, it has to provide a s and Google doesn’t have the same funding issues that the NHS has so it would be unfair to hold them to the same standards.

So is coding in the NHS a waste of time? Should you really bother? No it’s not a waste of time and yes you should bother but it’s not going to be easy. I have met my fair share of NHS employees who clearly know nothing about coding or machine learning but talk about it as if they do. As a result they are very dismissive, do not let them discourage you. I have also come across my fair share of highly motivated NHS employees. As the NHS is fairly fragmented in this sense in my experience you will come across these people in the most sporadic manner. Always have a few demos at hand. I have a basic iPhone app to show that I can code, complete a project and bring it to distribution. I also carry a dataset of 500,000 Amazon reviews I got from with a python script I wrote that scans the reviews and sorts them based on content, in-turn calculating the average rating of the different categories. Non-clinical examples are safe; they show your capabilities without the hassle of data protection. A picture says a thousand words and so does a short demo of what your coding skills can do. Refining your personal approach isn’t the only edge you can give yourself in this uphill, cutting edge struggle. Refining your approach to the system also gives you an edge. Gareth Thompson is a registrar in accident and emergency. He has also completed an MBA and acted as a management consultant for healthcare and he’s developed content for my IPhone app: Medical Matrix. Right now he is working on integrating an intelligent triage app with hospital systems. A useful skill is to know when someone can do a better job than yourself so it makes sense for Gareth to round up this article with advice on how to approach the NHS system with your innovative coding skills.


Gareth> The first thing you should do is talk to people. Innovators tend to be rebellious, free thinkers. This is a fantastic trait and it is precisely what often motivates passionate innovators. However, it can be deceptively easy to spot the flaws in the current system, and to want to fix it immediately without seeing through the eyes of all the stakeholders involved. Your solution may well be the perfect answer, but there are often real barriers and real considerations that must be taken into account before your idea can be implemented. To stand the best chance of success, you must first find out what all the reasons are for not implementing your amazing idea. This may sound negative or counter-intuitive, but it will give you the best tools to assess your own idea realistically. If you don’t appraise your own invention critically and look for the possible flaws or problems, then trust me, somebody else will! For healthcare coders, patient data confidentiality and data protection are of the utmost importance. Talk to your IT department, and find out what their concerns are. Managers are often seen as barriers to innovation, but they are currently going through one of the toughest austerity measures in recent history. Can you help them cut costs? Talk to your fellow healthcare staff. Do they like your idea? What benefits do they think will flow from it? What difficulties do they see? Ultimately, by talking to as many people as possible about your idea, you will have a much clearer perspective on how to make it a success. It may go through multiple revisions before you get it right. Ultimately, by holding it up for criticism, you will be much more likely to succeed. You will face obstacles. How you deal with them will be key. If you believe in your solution then keep pushing.

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