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December 16, 2018

How new technology can both consume and save time: lessons for digital court reform?

“A shambolic day for youth justice at Bromley YC. Still sitting, still waiting for 3 young people in custody to have their cases heard and at least another 4 on bail who have been here all day” @melstooks.

“It is also the new case management system that takes so long for the legal advisor to complete on each case, which increases the delay” @Lazywheeler

This twitter exchange about how delays can be exacerbated by new computer processes prompted this week’s blog which is just a call for you to read another article. I was already a huge fan of Atul Gawande, whose book Being Mortal is a searing critique of how we approach and treat old people. Atul wrote recently about the impact of computers on the work of doctors like himself working for PartnersHealthcare in New England. His article is a brilliant long read about the challenges of introducing new software for storing, updating and accessing the case notes of patients.

I’ve a few thoughts on the implications for the government’s digital court reform programme, and in particular for judges and legal advisors who may be pressured to input data during court hearings and/or to operate video systems:

  1. It takes a long time for non-techies to get used to a new digital system.
  2. Inputting data into any case file system is incredibly time consuming. In Atul’s organisation many doctors, whose responsibility it is to update case notes, have found that inputting into the new whizzy system takes much, much longer than with the old software. This is not just a question of competence. Intelligent, computer literate doctors have ended up recruiting and paying for digital assistants to input the information for them.
  3. Doctors are particularly worried that inputting data is distracting them during consultations with patients. They risk spending their time looking at the computer screen, rather than focusing on and listening to their patients.
  4. The advantages of the new computer system are that it can present richer data, both for doctors and for patients, who can access their own files from home.
  5. None of the doctors is contemplating replacing face to face consultations with consultations via a video screen. Their concern is rather that technology may compromise the relationship between doctor and patient.

I urge you to read the article itself and want to thank Julian Le Vay for drawing my attention to it.