It was in the late 1840s when Ignaz Semmelweis, as head of the maternity services in a Vienna hospital, observed that women cared for by physicians were more likely to die (13-18%) from infection than women cared for by midwives (2%). Recognising that infection control was critical, he implemented mandatory handwashing that brought mortality rate down to 2%. Since then infection control has been a key part of all aspects of the care process.Today, health organisations face a new infection challenge, that of keeping their IT systems free of viruses and other attacks on their health, and they will need to treat this threat with the same seriousness, according to James Mucklow and Richard Corbridge, both experts in healthcare technology, policy, and innovation. For starters, promoting awareness that digital technology is now integral to healthcare should help encourage health leaders and providers to take this challenge seriously, the experts point out. Indeed, information technology touches all parts of the process: clinicians look at records electronically, lab tests are computerised, and ambulances are dispatched by computers. This role will continue to increase as health systems and clinics move to paperless, integrated and patient-centred approaches. Second, IT systems need to be connected and this exposes them to risk, the experts note. Connectivity in health organisations brings real value to patients. For example to support continuity of care, or support peripatetic carers with mobile devices, a connection to the worldwide web is necessary, but that web is a potential source of digital infection.

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