The friendly staff at my medical centre suggested I might like to establish an online account to access my medical records via my own portal. It seemed a good idea, more reliable and comprehensive than my own tatty file of random NHS papers received over the years, so I went ahead. At first, I was alarmed to discover that the service is outsourced to a private company – more evidence of the ‘creeping privatisation’ of our treasured NHS, I thought – but I reconciled this concern with the argument that the NHS should concentrate on providing medical treatment and leave the management of data and websites to specialists in the field. So I now have a health-record portal and – aside from the fact that the accessible information is presented in unintelligible doctor-speak – a small problem: I have acquired another password.
In our household, the responsibility for keeping passwords lies with me, by default. I will not reveal the method employed to store them but let’s just say it may not be 100% hack-proof and that, in a discussion with my partner about this, I was volunteered to research the various apps that purport to keep passwords secret yet available to each of us whenever and wherever required. There are several such apps but their descriptions do not explain quite how they work: that becomes apparent only when you have downloaded them, created an account (with yet another password) and attempted to use them in the way you imagined they might perform. After an hour or so of trial-and-error, my frustration level rose to the point where physical violence threatened to break out and I decided to take a gym-break.
Down at the gym, however, things were no better. Knowing my membership was about to expire, I had taken my credit card with me. “You can renew via your online portal,” said the harassed-looking manager. “Maybe,” I said, “but I established my account long before you were born and the system no longer recognises it.” He hacked grumpily into my account, hit the ‘renew’ button and demanded from me a sum way above what I had budgeted. I protested and, when it turned out that the system was indeed overcharging, he had to complete the transaction by manual over-ride. I did my best not to appear smug.
The next day I received an email from the gym explaining to me how “becoming healthier and more active is easier than ever.” But I already know that, I thought: eat a balanced diet and walk more. How much easier can it be? I read on and discovered that my simplistic approach is regarded as primitive, unsophisticated and entirely inadequate to keep me at the peak of personal fitness. Apparently, I should login to internet-connected Technogym equipment to access my training programmes, record my body measurements, connect with popular nutritional apps and devices and share my data with my personal trainer. I am already worried about privatisation of the NHS, now I detect a sneaky attempt to monetise the very fitness regime that I employ to avoid requiring its services in the first place. How prescient of H.G. Wells to observe, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
The next time I went to the gym, there was some good news: I no longer have to remember a passcode to get through the turnstile. Instead, they gave me a rubber bracelet with an embedded chip to present for entry. I suspect, however, that it also records data such as when you come and go, how frequently and what you get up to while you are there. How long before all of this pops up on my NHS portal accompanied, no doubt, by ads for nutritional supplements and discounted life insurance?