New technologies are transforming hospitals across the UK.
The rise of big data and the Internet of Things is creating fresh opportunities for clinicians, while computers are becoming faster and more mobile, making it easier for healthcare professionals to get the job done quicker.
However, it’s not just new physical products which are making a difference (see our ‘Top three product picks’ for some of the latest healthcare tech from London’s E-Health event in March) – but digital innovations are changing the way the health sector operates.
One of the core themes at the event was the plan for the NHS to go ‘paperless’ by 2018, which Rt Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, described as his “maddest promise” in a keynote talk, and hopes that citizens will be able to access their health records online.
Dr Johan Waktare, cardiologist at Liverpool heart and chest hospital, also gave a talk on managing that shift, but admitted that “going paperless is a red herring”.
“This is about delivering IT-enabled healthcare – it’s not about making all of your processes electronic,” he said. “We’re at the closest approximation to ‘paperless’. I hope we’ll be completely paperless in the future.”
Looking at other digital developments, more apps are being specially designed for hospitals in order to improve patient care. For example, the Relax Anaesthetics tablet app is designed to help relax and distract children with art and games while they are being anaesthetised for surgery.
A study has underlined the importance of IT in healthcare. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) research from 91 NHS hospitals in England shows that the better the IT infrastructure in hospitals, the lower the number of patient deaths after hospitalisation.
For many hospitals, however, budgets are tight. There is a £240 million NHS tech fund that helps hospitals from paper-based systems to electronic records, but reports of it being cut to £43 million were dismissed by Hunt.
“What we’ve actually done with the tech fund is stage the rollout rather than cut it in absolute terms,” he said. “My view is it’s really important to increase investment in IT.”
So what kind of tech can we expect to see impact the healthcare sector in the future?
Looking at wearable tech, while it hasn’t yet become a key new consumer category some predicted, the medical sector is one area where it could take off. Smart glasses and wristbands can be used to bring up patient information or simulate operations using Augmented Reality, while apps for the upcoming Apple Watch can help individuals keep track of their heart rate, sleeping patterns, diet and more.
“Telehealth is very underestimated at the moment as a resource in terms of care for the elderly,” Hunt added. “The ability to connect to a hospital doctor or nurse through your TV screen by pressing a red button is something I think could be incredibly powerful in terms of keeping people healthy and secure.”
TOP THREE PRODUCT PICKS
HP Elitepad 1000 G2
The computing giant showed off a tablet at the recent London E-Health event designed for the healthcare sector. The HP ElitePad 1000 G2 boasts clean antimicrobial plastic, a barcode reader and bio scanner, with 16 hours’ battery life. It has just launched and is sold both through distribution partners and to hospitals direct. HP Enterprise Services also announced its web-based patient record system HCIS is now available to NHS Trusts through the NHS England OpenSource programme.
A new range of rugged tablets and smartphones graced the front of Panasonic’s stand, including the FZ-G1 ToughPad, which can withstand heavy knocks. These are targeting paramedics and can be used in tough environments or emergencies, for example while treating a patient on the side of a road. A Panasonic spokesperson said the CF-19 rugged laptop has a 90 per cent share of the ambulance market. These devices can be ordered through distributors such as Tech Data and Centerprise.
PC vendor Lenovo presented its standard range of ThinkPad laptops and tablets at the show for clinicians and healthcare professionals. A company spokesperson told PCR Lenovo rarely sells direct to hospitals – sales tend to be made through distribution and reseller partners.