Healthcare organisations and the NHS are continually looking for new ways to reduce administrative overheads and improve productivity in hospitals, which in turn enables clinicians to spend more time on patient care rather than on fighting stacks and stacks of paper. With this in mind Martin Brindley reports on the inroads being taken to transform the NHS from a paper-based organisation to a paperless one.

Even though Jeremy Hunt, MP, recently outlined his goal of making the NHS paperless by 2018, paper is still ingrained in the NHS and healthcare. However, with the need to digitise and capture more and more information on the go, there is a need for a solution that would enable the accurate capture of patient information and effectively digitise it in a format that is easily transmitted to the patient records system.

‘When it comes to digitising records in the healthcare environment, the choice of appropriate technology becomes interesting,’ says Edward Belgeonne, CEO of data capture and digital pen specialist Destiny Wireless. ‘However, healthcare trusts should be wary of any provider that limits their offer to any single type of device - whether it’s a digital pen, a PDA, a tablet or a smartphone.’

Budget constraints

Belgeonne’s comment rings true to many hospitals. With tight budget constraints, a tablet device may not always be the best or most cost effective solution and an alternative, or a combination of technologies, is often needed to put together a truly unique data capture solution.

‘Digital pens are being used in the healthcare setting with a lot of success,’ adds Stein Revelsby, CEO of Anoto, providers of digital writing technologies. ‘The pen is a powerful solution as it can sync up with mobile devices through a Bluetooth connection and transfer handwritten notes automatically to a back-end system. Documents can also be converted into a PDF format, making them easy to view on a plethora of devices.’

As with most technologies, connectivity is the key and Belgeonne is quick to point out that whatever device is used for capturing the data, the key essential is that it can be transmitted quickly and securely across the N3 national broadband network that links hospitals, medical centres and GPs in England and Scotland.

How does data capture help patients?

For patients, mobile data capture solutions can be beneficial due to clinicians being able to dedicate more time to the patient because of the improvements in the workflow. Thanks to mobile data capture solutions, doctors and clinicians do not have to spend time re-keying handwritten notes, thus ensuring patients are receiving the utmost care, be it at the patients’ home or in the hospital.

One such organisation that has utilised a solution that allows them to record and transmit data from 800 clinicians is Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. The Trust secured the freedom of Foundation Trust status recently. Its Community Mental Health Team is using digital pen technology to make a big change in the quality of data and have been able to improve the time spent in face-to-face patient care without increasing staff levels.

‘Being a Foundation Trust gives us the freedom to align ourselves more closely to our patients’ needs,’ says Nick Hodson, Head of Service Improvement and Programme Assurance at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. ‘It also gives us the freedom to make a profit and re-invest it into patient care where we know it can be of most use.

‘Understanding and managing income and activity are two key components in achieving Foundation Trust status. The digital pens have given us confidence and assurance across both these domains raising, in the consciousness of clinicians, the relevance and importance of the activity they undertake as a key part of securing income, allowing us to continue to provide the clinical expertise to those who need it.’

The real challenge for organisations is to move to an environment that would cause minimal disruption to the daily practices and working life whilst implementing technology that can seamlessly convert documents to electronic format and link them with the appropriate patient files.

Through the data capture solution put together by Destiny Wireless, Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has been able to reduce the administrative tasks by 15 minutes per patient, whilst protecting important face-to-face time.

‘The solution we delivered to Derbyshire provides the basis for accurate, contemporaneous data to determine the correct “clustering” of patients and help meet the forthcoming challenges of Payment by Results,’ Belgeonne explains. ‘The solution delivered a return on investment after just one year and, most significantly, it achieved a cash release of over £860,000.’

The clinicians at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust now use a digital pen and form to write out a report at the end of each patient visit. Then, simply by ticking a box on the form, the electronic pen strokes are transmitted as encrypted data from the pen to a mobile phone via Bluetooth. Here it is encrypted again and sent via the internet to secure mirrored servers.

From these servers, converted data in the form of a graphical pdf of the original handwritten form and an xml data file is sent via encrypted email directly to a collaborative client-server application in an automatically managed inbox at the Trust, where it updates the healthcare documentation system through an ID matching process. Any incorrect entries are sent to a holding area where they are reviewed and managed.

‘It’s a fast and proven process which we now rely on completely,’ explains Hodson. ‘But the real benefit of the digital pen technology is the way it has acted as one of the catalysts, moving us forward in the way we work as an organisation. Investing in our staff and emphasising the importance of accurate, timely data in an increasingly commercial world has initiated a change in the way we all now need to perceive our roles.

‘Capacity and demand planning support activity-sensitive contract arrangements  with commissioners who have confidence in the data captured by the technology. We’ve gained additional income by using this data to make sure that cost-effective quality services are the key component of any new business opportunities. As a result we’re successfully growing. Our efficiency programme is assured for the next five years. We’re now accurately paid for what we do, and we’ll meet our surplus targets for re-investment.’

Data capture solutions can deliver significant benefits to healthcare organisations. According to Anoto’s Revelsby: ‘Using digital pens to capture key information can save both time and money. By moving to a model that combines both paper and mobile data capture, healthcare trusts can dedicate more time to patients and not have to deal with arduous administrative tasks.’