The Challenge

Digital healthcare is remarkable, contributing significantly to well-being and saving lives; however, its complexities also mean it can go wrong. There have been instances where digital healthcare has caused catastrophic failures.

When digital healthcare does go wrong, patients may suffer harm. Unfortunately, staff members are often unfairly blamed, with investigations often falling short of uncovering the correct answers because digital is so complex.

How can we strike a balance that allows us to harness the benefits of digital technology in healthcare while minimising the problems and the risks? 

The Method

Professor Harold Thimbleby is a distinguished figure in the field of computer science, specializing in the study of interactive computer systems. He was an expert witness in a significant court case after over seventy nurses were subject to disciplinary actions due to allegations of negligence. Five of them faced criminal prosecution, potentially leading to imprisonment. 

Professor Thimbleby identified gaps in the computer evidence that remained unexplained and ultimately proved to be misleading. The suggestion that seventy nurses had committed identical errors was implausible. As the court case unfolded over three weeks, it was discovered that the Chief Engineer of the company responsible for the computer system had deleted the crucial data. This revelation led to the release of the nurses, who had been behind bars during the proceedings.

This story is one of many in Professor Thimbleby's major book — Fix IT: See and Solve the Problems of Digital Healthcare (OUP 2021).

The Impact

Professor Thimbleby’s book, Fix IT, earned the British Medical Association General Medicine Best Book Award, an impressive feat considering its focus on digital topics. The judges said that ”everyone in healthcare should read the book.”

Professor Thimbleby collaborated with his wife, Prue, to create a concise magazine-style booklet, rewriting the impactful stories from the Fix IT book to be more accessible to a wider audience. Titled “Patient Safety — Stories for a Digital World”, this booklet was published in 2024.

The booklet features two crucial parts: one offers practical advice for those caught up in safety investigations and potential legal proceedings; the other part outlines essential changes required in digital healthcare management and regulations to enhance safety and reliability. Complimentary copies can be downloaded free from

An additional testament to the impact of this work is the establishment of the Fix IT Prize, awarded by the Royal College of Physicians. This prestigious prize recognises contributions to digital healthcare that significantly enhance patient safety or staff well-being, further underscoring the importance and influence of initiatives like Professor Thimbleby's book and the associated booklet.


Text reads Swansea University Research Themes