Good old Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) is formally being retired. Why should I be interested – I hear you cry?! I agree, it’s not that exciting – but ditching Internet Explorer is an important step for innovation in healthcare.

Internet Explorer will always have a special place in our hearts as the first browser many of us used when we were introduced to the worldwide web. While many of us have graduated to Chrome, Safari or Edge, there are many users who do not have the ability to choose the browsers available to them in their workplace. Then there are others who are using one of the many web apps that were built to be used in IE and have never been updated.

IE is rarely used by anyone apart from UK health services. The browser accounts for 5% of global internet traffic. Compare this to 18% of people using IE to access our website. It is being used disproportionately in health and social care services compared to other industries. This can limit innovation capabilities in the sector.

Why is Internet Explorer no longer adequate?

 The primary reason to stop using IE is that it doesn’t provide the same level of security as other browsers. It is more susceptible to hackers who can then attack your computer without you ever knowing. This puts confidential documents, that may hold sensitive and important information about your patients, grossly at risk.

Even Microsoft wants you to stop using it

IE is considered a legacy product by Microsoft, their focus is on Microsoft Edge. They are therefore just doing the minimum to keep it going before they retire it on 17 August 2021. This means less bug fixes are released which could leave your computer vulnerable to viruses and malware for several weeks. Newer browsers are releasing updates and security patches* as required, most of the time you are probably are not even aware these updates have happened. This is because these browsers appreciate the importance of your Internet security and want to make it as simple as possible to keep you protected.

I do have to give credit where credit’s due. IE has been around since 1995 starting out as part of Microsoft’s ‘Plus! for Windows 95’ update/kit. Back then it was used by 95% of Internet users. It has also managed to survive playing second fiddle to Microsoft Edge since 2015 and being dethroned by Google Chrome in 2016. I’m sure when it launched no one thought it would be around and functional for 26 years.

How Thalamos makes Internet Explorer work

As a business, we have to do lots of extra work to keep our service secure and running on IE, but the people we’ve designed our service for still use it – so it’s a step we must take to remove barriers to access.

But the use of IE should be considered at an industry level. Due to its age, it’s more difficult to make more modern programming languages work with IE. It’s not exciting to do and it takes time. Imagine designing a brand-new electric engine and having to make it work in a 1990’s Ford Mondeo. You can do it – but is it missing the point?

The use of out-of-date technology also has a direct impact on innovation in services.

It can also make life harder for NHS IT departments. If you were a bright young developer, would you rather work on exciting new financial services technology using the latest code and techniques, or would you rather work on healthcare projects – where on top of all the other challenges faced in health tech, you also have to retrofit your work to even display correctly on fiddly old browsers?

The innovation conversation in healthcare usually focuses on buzzwords like data sets and artificial intelligence (AI). But if our healthcare professionals are using the equivalent of a 1990’s Ford Mondeo to do their jobs (and they are collecting the data set for the AI) is healthcare really going to attract the best talent to help deliver better outcomes for people accessing services whilst providers and businesses alike spend time and effort keeping IE alive?

Cash is always tight in services. Clinicians are never going to be equipped with the latest smartphones and tablets. But I am excited about retiring Internet Explorer. It is a fantastic step forward for healthcare and will help to facilitate the buzzwords which fly around conferences. It will hopefully improve your user experience and reduce any hurdles you incur as a result of relying on IE.

What do Internet Explorer users do now?

If you are still using IE as your default browser, you should already have been encouraged to use alternative browsers such as Microsoft Edge. There may be some software or programmes (both within and outside of healthcare) which rely on IE to function. In this case, Microsoft has created an IE legacy mode within Edge. However, in time, this will also become defunct and software will need to be adapted to work within other systems and browsers.

It has served us well, but we have to concede that IE is no longer secure or modern. It’s time to move on. To build on innovation in healthcare, we need to get the basics right and that includes using the right software.

RIP Microsoft Explorer: 1995-2021.

* Patching is a set of changes made to a computer programme to fix, update or improve it. This includes fixing security vulnerabilities or bugs. Patches can also be referred to as bug fixes.