News from the industry...

He’s watching you…

Dr Mark Martin writes: As I write the front pages are adorned with photos of the latest Celebrity Big Brother winner. Forget war, religion and politics – this is apparently news.

Most of us won’t recognise any of the contestants; many are former participants from other reality TV shows simply bouncing from one ‘it’s been a journey’ moment to another. I could hazard a guess that few of them realise the programme is named after George Orwell’s terrifying villain.

Nineteen Eighty-Four may have been written in 1946 but its key themes of control, authority and surveillance are all too relevant today. Can Big Brother watching you ever be a good thing?

India’s top private hospitals are increasing the use of ‘remote management’ of intensive care units around the country because of a shortage of critical-care doctors.

Advances in technology mean that doctors based at a private hospital in the country’s capital can track a wall of television monitors displaying the vital signs of intensive care patients being treated hundreds of miles away.

Hospital owner Fortis Healthcare stated that on one occasion the oxygen flow to a 67-year-old patient had stopped at one of its centres in Amritsar, Northern India. As no critical-care doctors were present, a consultant in New Delhi issued vital instructions via video link to prevent brain damage or death of the patient.

Recently doctors located in New Delhi saved a pregnant woman in a hospital in the southern city of Warangal after her heart stopped beating, by talking the resident non-trauma doctor through chest compressions.

The substantial shortage of doctors in India is forcing hospitals to set up more of these ‘electronic intensive care units’ (or eICUs). According to the World Health Organisation there is currently only seven doctors for every 10,000 people, half the global average. It is estimated the country needs more than 50,000 critical care specialists but has just over 8,000.

While leveraging new technology obviously helps the advancement of medicine, this brave new world where doctors are replaced by a voice of guidance coming through an ear piece is concerning.

Let’s hope Jeremy Hunt doesn’t cotton on to the idea. What better cost-saving exercise could there be than replacing teams of well-trained trauma specialists dotted around the country with a bank of Orwellian screens being stared at by several tired and battle-weary doctors at a disused warehouse in London.

What next? Robots assessing the medical history of patients fighting for their lives in distant outposts? Does the machine decide if they should they live or die? Such ‘medicine by microphone’ sounds like an idea for a future television show.

Probably time to mention that Endemol, the production company behind Big Brother, thoughtfully gave Holland the programme ‘Big Donor’ in which three people in need of organ donation competed for a dying woman’s kidney.