5 ways coding improves your healthcare

It’s national coding week! To celebrate I wanted to talk about how important coding is in healthcare and put it into perspective for those of you that might read that and think “Coding? How could that possibly influence my healthcare?”

It’s true, I may be a little biased as I am a bioinformatician, so a large part of my job is – you guessed it – coding. However, I really don’t think it will be long before coding will be an essential part of all healthcare science jobs!

To clarify- in healthcare there is a type of coding called “clinical coding”. This is what hospitals use to track patient admissions/transfers/discharges and record the treatment each patient receives. This isn’t the coding I’m talking about. I’m talking programming and software development- the kind of coding that I’m sure you’ve heard a stereotype for.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m well aware that for all the examples I’m going to give, the teams developing these technologies have a skill range and breadth well beyond coding alone, but coding is one thing they have in common and is essential to their success. So without further ado, here’s 5 examples, big and small, specific and broad, of how coding improves everyone’s healthcare:

national coding week

  1. Let’s kick this off with a big one. Literally, every information system and machine used in healthcare is supported by a piece of software written by someone with programming skills. I’m talking patient administration systems to MRI scanners, the NHS Spine to ECG machines. Don’t even get me started on interoperability: getting all these systems to talk to one another. The NHS, from humble beginnings, now relies on code, and therefore the people that can help to write it.
  2. Keeping it topical: the newly announced NHS app due to be rolled out in Dec 2018. Apps are created by specific types of software developers, apptly named “App Developers”. The NHS App will allow patients registered to access NHS 111 online, book appointments with their GP practice, order repeat prescriptions, view their GP medical record, register as an organ donor and set their national data sharing preferences. This will not only give patients more involvement and control over their healthcare and do it all in one place but will hopefully also encourage people to register as organ donors and understand the importance of data sharing.
  3. Another specific example, but no less topical; how about DeepMinds Artificial Intelligence system to detect eye diseases and recommend appropriate referrals based on its findings? So how cool is this? Basically a robot that can make correct eye referral recommendations 94% of the time. Now before anyone panics about ophthamologists losing their jobs- this is only used as a prioritisation aid, to ultimately improve patient care and outcomes. Healthcare is fortunately still a place where expertise is, and always should be, held in the highest esteem.
  4. Here’s one close to my heart- bioinformatics, or put broadly: the processing of genomic data! So you’ve heard the NHS plan to introduce the national genomic medicine service? Well let me tell you- DNA is a lot of data. Like- A LOT. So much that you can’t possibly process it manually. Which is where bioinformatics comes in. Bioinformatics makes it possible to go from a huge amount of data to a reasonable amount of data (using code!) that can then be analysed to hopefully give patients a genetic diagnosis. This can then inform treatment or make family members aware of the risks of carrying a genetic condition.
  5. Last but not least, wearable devices, for example, continuous glucose monitoring for diabetics. The software embedded in these devices will alert the wearer if their glucose levels are out of normal range meaning they don’t have to feel restricted about constantly remembering to monitor their blood glucose levels. Think of the peace of mind this must give to parents of young children with diabetes.

If you’re in the NHS or the healthcare, or even tech sector, you probably noticed a few buzzwords littered across this post. That’s because coding is so essential to developing the new healthcare technologies in that everyone is talking about. And this post barely scratches the surface of what coding can bring, but I’m hoping it’s made a point about how important the work done behind the scenes (or maybe in the basement if you’re sticking to the stereotype!) is important to our healthcare service.

I also hope computer scientists reading this, maybe not sure what to do next, can see that the healthcare sector needs you! Come and help realise the future of healthcare!

As always, thanks for reading and until next time!

Author: Jes

I am a trainee clinical bioinformatician working at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. I am passionate about increasing awareness and discussion about healthcare science and particularly the routes into the field.

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