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Mobile Tech Helps NHS Reach Remote Patients

Healthcare workers providing in-home care use digital pens to send patient information to and from hospital records systems.
As the National Health Service (NHS) starts to settle into a new management structure this week, many Trusts are turning to technology to help them meet new targets and responsibilities. The management shift follows the biggest shakeup since the NHS's founding in 1948.

One example is NHS Western Isles' goal: to better connect community nurses and staff who visit patients at home. That can be a challenge in the Scottish countryside, despite serving a population of only 26,500. The 1,000-strong clinical team needs to cover a geographic area that's 130 miles long, ranging from the Butt of Lewis in the North to the Isle of Barra in the South. The region comprises more than 280 towns, some of which can be reached only by sea.

The Trust's head of IT, Jon Harris, told Information Week that mobile technology is starting to help. "Implementation of [new] technology has allowed us to free up a considerable amount of time for community nurses to spend face to face with patients, as well as for planning service improvements."

[ Is NHS too focused on niche technology? Read NHS Needs Better Vision Of Digital Patients. ]

Harris and his team are making use of technology from Swedish firm Anoto, a provider of digital writing solutions. The company offers digital pens that connect with mobile devices via Bluetooth to send information electronically from the field to a hospital's health care records system.

Anoto recently teamed up with the British tech firm DevelopIQ, which works in the mobile data capture field, to enable midwives at Ashford and St. Peter's NHS Foundation Trust to help meet new NHS compliance and payment requirements by using Blackberrys to easily remotely record risk assessment data for expectant mothers.

Before the Anoto system was introduced in the Western Isles, Harris said, the nurses spent more than 40% of their time each day on administrative tasks such as recording their activity and patient notes. Now the nurses write information on specially designed digitized forms within their Patient Held Record (hardware that stays with patients in their own homes). That data is sent via Bluetooth to their phone, which then sends the data to the Trust's server, where it is decrypted and picked up by the SCI Store system by FTP.

That means forms and images appear back in the patient's home on their Record devices for other clinicians to view. It also means that GPs, out-of-hours staff, ward staff, and a range of other clinicians can see at a glance what has been happening with any particular patient on the same day.

Harris worked with mobile operator Vodafone and IT services firm Ubisys to complete the new system.

Regulatory requirements dominate, our research shows. The challenge is to innovate with technology, not just dot the i's and cross the t's. Also in the new, all-digital The Right Health IT Priorities? issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Real change takes much more than technology. (Free registration required.)