NHS IT has a bright future - if we adapt fast, says Lyn Whitfield

Ministers, analysts and suppliers claim the dark days of NHS IT are over and the bright new dawn of e-health is about to break.

Perhaps. It is in a spirit of some optimism that HSJ has replaced IT Updatewith this supplement, focusing on what technology can do, rather than how it does it.

If e-government becomes a reality, we should all be able to deal with government departments in the same way as we deal with banks, shops and travel - by phone and e-mail, without queues and petty bureaucracy.

If e-health becomes a reality, we should see more accountable, responsive services. These are big ifs, and government IT is not famous for delivering to plan. The latest NHS IT strategy puts its faith in government and NHS standards and a more 'corporate'approach to procurement to get around this. On one level, this seems the only way ahead. The NHS cannot move fast enough to meet consumer demands by relying on local developments. But will the NHS learn from the past, or find itself in hock to large suppliers promising the earth and unable to deliver?

There is another worry - lack of engagement with the new agenda.

People can arrange a£20,000 loan over the Internet in seconds. They expect the same speed and quality of service from the state. For the NHS, this means on-the-spot booking, honoured appointments, engaging with informed patients. If the NHS doesn't do it, the private sector will. Adapt or die is the message: and fast. But be optimistic. The future's bright if we can but reach it.