The day I met Tony Blair, talked about online healthcare

I am feeling under the weather at the moment.

Been off work for a couple of days with what seems to be some kind of chest infection. I finally decided to stop waiting for it to go away on its own, and went to see the doctor – starting by looking at the website of the surgery, since I’ve moved house in the last year and haven’t had a need to register with the new place yet.

Just as a precaution, I went off to NHS Direct to see what was wrong with me – they have a wizard that asks you about the symptoms you might be experiencing, after you give it a steer. So I thought, “Breathing difficulties in Adults”, yep… then filled out the next set of answers… 

Now my lips aren’t blue (as far as I recall), I can talk OK but now and again do have a bit of a wheeze, so that sounds about right..

YIKES. Anyway, I’m pretty confident I’m not in the midst of a heart attack so I’ll ignore that advice for now.

Having a look around my doctor’s website, though, it turns out they are now offering appointments which can be made online. Now that seems like a great step in the right direction for busy people. It set me thinking about the time when the UK’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his wife & entourage, dropped in to see us in Microsoft UK.


The Blairs visit

This was in the run up to the June 2001 election, and the Labour Party had asked if Tony, Cherie & co could come and see us on the day they launched their business manifesto. Of course, Microsoft said yes, and went ahead arranging an event in our central atrium where we would do a few demos to the PM and Mrs Blair, on some forthcoming technology (Office XP) and some future directions stuff.

I was asked to do one of the demos, and with a colleague concocted a mock-up of a system that might be imlemented some time in the future, but in this case was using a Pocket PC with Wireless LAN (then a PCMCIA card in a Jacket that clipped to the back of a still-shiny Compaq iPaq).

(that’s me at the bottom in case you haven’t guessed)

The demo was a little app which a health visitor might use if doing a home visit to a couple with a new born baby, notices the baby’s a bit off-colour. The app would:

  •  issue a prescription of the appropriate medicine
  • let the parents chose which pharmacists they’d like to have the prescription details sent to automatically (advising back when the prescription would be ready for collection)
  • arranged a date of a follow-up appointment with a doctor at the surgery, based on their availability and the parents’ preference of time.

SIx years ago, this might not have looked like rocket science to IT people but could really change the way healthcare is delivered. Now, it looks like a straightforward thing to do technically, what with advances is size and power of mobile devices which would be 3G connected or similar.

I stepped through the wizard on the device, which was being shown on Plasma screens all round the place, and the deal was that I’d give the device to Mr Blair at the end of the wizard, so he could sign the prescription (as the parent, obviously – at this point, the Blairs had a fairly young baby themselves, so that scenario seemed plausible).

The trouble was, in order for the signature to be visible on screen, I had to remember to tap in a specific place (to set the cursor at the right point, actually) and in the nerves of the situation, forgot – so I handed the PM the device, asked him to sign, which he duly did with a flourish… but nothing came up on the screen. He did look a little bemused (and smiling) while handing the device back, but said nothing … he’s either a total pro, or had literally no idea what was going on… I’ll leave the judgment to yourselves 🙂 I just mumbled something about the signature being secure etc, and moved on quickly…

Anyway, the visit seemd to go well, and the whole demos were broadcast live on Sky News (where the news presenter said, on coming back to the studio after my piece, that he felt sorry for the PM after receiving “an ear bashing like that”!) There was a little negative commentary from the usual places, but otherwise a day to remember – for me at least, if not for the guests of honour!

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