Over the last year out of touch politicians have been questioning the validity of pagers being used the NHS. I personally like pagers. They’re simple and reliable. The NHS systems can barely talk to each other and from what I remember, there’s always huge patches in any hospital where you can’t get phone signal or wifi. Adding digital alert systems sounds like a nice idea but I personally don’t think that the NHS can support it yet. The NHS should really walk before running. A strong dev community and open source projects should really be the priority. However, most NHS innovation leaders I’ve met know nothing about tech. They’ve never written a line of code, let alone spun up a server. What’s interesting is that a lot of doctors and nurses will shake their head when managers make a decision without letting clinicians be part of the planning process. However, they do the exact same thing when thinking about digital solutions. Still, it’s human nature. I wish them the best. A calming effect for me was realizing that all professions have blind spots where the profession lacks any self-awareness. I now work in financial tech and this is no exception.
Anyhow, alert systems are useful. I’m sure there are many clinicians who can think of good use cases where an update can be pinged to their phone. Well, thanks to discord, setting up an alert system is not only easy, but it is also free!
So what is discord? It’s like WhatsApp…… but just loads better. You can have groups called servers. You can add people to these groups. These groups then have channels. Users can then chat on different channels in that group:
Different channels can have different rules. You can also give different permissions to different users. Posts that contain critical information can be pinned in order to be easily accessed whenever you’re on that channel. You can also kick or ban people from the group and invite others. Honestly, once you’ve used the discord phone app for a group, you will swear when a Luddite adds you to a group chat on WhatsApp. You will no longer tolerate scrolling through an unordered mass of messages to find the address of the house party. Seriously, discord is free and easy to set up, there’s no excuse for using WhatsApp for your group chats. If a hospital department is using a WhatsApp group chat take their tech suggestions with a pinch of salt. They already failed hard at picking which free chat app to use.
Now the discord advantages don’t just stop there. You can set up bots and webhooks for your group channels. This means that with just a few lines of code, you can push a message to your discord channels from your server! For a toy project, I coded a server that pings discord when the tube status changes on the TFL website. But there’s nothing stopping clinicians using this free resource to setup alert processes for hospital departments and teams. For a quick guide on how to setup discord webhooks for your server to ping, check out my coding tutorial [link]. My computational medicine students at Imperial have used this to send alerts for high-risk cardiac patients (don’t stress we’re not pushing patient details through it).