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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

How an NHS trust is using video conferencing to improve patient care

Mike Bone is the chief information officer for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which is one of the 12 global digital exemplars (GDEs) across the country – meaning it has already ahead of many other trusts in terms of technological and digital change.

“We’re always looking to champion using technology to improve the patient journey and enrich the experience of our staff,” says Bone, who is responsible for all the technologies the organisation uses to enable clinical services across the hospital.

“Our ethos when it comes to digital is that any clinician regardless of location should have access to all the information they need to make an important decision about the patient,” Bone tells NS Tech.

Bone’s role is to work with operational people, senior staff and clinicians to look at how the trust can use technology to deliver that promise.

This promise is part of a wider 57-page IT strategy that runs from 2018 to 2021, that is largely around the programme of work that the organisation has agreed with NHS Digital as a GDE, but Bone says that the trust also aims to innovate without being restricted to what is in the strategy.

This has included going live in June with a pager replacement service, so the trust no longer has pagers for routine communications.

“We started working with a start-up company two years ago on a pilot and as we liked it, we worked together to build a product and now we have around 2,800 people using it everyday and up to 10,000 messages a day being exchanged across the trust, and this is all about providing better care for our patients,” Bone says.

In another example, the trust has been on the lookout for a video communications platform, so that it could carry out outpatient appointments on video – enabling doctors to log in from anywhere to speak to patients.

“We looked at what services were available, including Involve, Arrow and Visionable and the leading solution was Visionable. We found out Visionable already provided the video conferencing platform for the East of England Stroke Telemedicine Service, so we had a small amount of equipment here in the hospital for that anyway, but besides that we really liked the product,” says Bone.

“It is a web-based solution, so it means as long as your device has a camera and has the ability to view the screen, you can use it on anything from a mobile phone or iPad to a laptop or full video suite,” he adds.

Bone also believes that Visionable offered better value for money than other products – which was important because of dwindling budgets in the NHS.

“They offer a package which enables us to use the platform for up to 1,000 concurrent users. Other companies had a similar package but they had to have named individuals and once they were assigned to an account you couldn’t replace them with anyone else, some companies’ packages weren’t even organised on a per user basis but rather on a ‘per clinical engagement’ basis – so Visionable offered us value for money and flexibility,” Bone explains.

“The more we worked with the company, we found them to be very agile, and always trying to help,” he adds.

The trust has since widened its use of the platform; as well as helping patients to communicate with each other, it wanted to bring together doctors, nurses and clinicians to be able to talk about patients with illnesses such as cancer.

“The formal way of doing it was to come together in a single venue. Today clinicians can join from a computer – we had a clinician join the room from a coffee shop in Madrid this week, for example,” he says.

This aim of bringing together staff could bring additional benefits such as cutting costs and using resources more effectively.

Bone uses the example of a pilot the trust is working on with a care home. It began the pilot because the hospital always had a number of patients that are taken ill at night at care homes, and without clinical staff working at the care home they usually turn to emergency services to assist them.

“The pilot we’re working on means we can provide a small plastic suitcase with a tablet computer and a small number of Bluetooth devices that allow the care home staff, under the guidance of clinical staff at the hospital, to check the patient’s temperature and blood pressure and feed that into a virtual triage of the patient,” Bone explains.

They can then add other clinical parties to the conversation – including an on-call GP, mental health and social care staff, or other clinicians, in order to reach a decision about what the best course of action is for a particular patient.

The reason for the pilot is that the hospital sees 180 patients a year that didn’t actually need to attend the hospital – with many of them coming from a care home setting.

“If we’re able to eliminate all of those, we would potentially generate a saving in excess of £150,000,” says Bone.

Bone will be hoping that West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust continues to innovate in the same way so that it can gain a return on investment through better patient care, diagnoses, staff experience and an increase in efficiency.