Shape of technical things to come

Healthcare innovation can not only improve patients’ wellbeing and prolong life, it can also offer efficiency cost savings in an economic environment where cuts seem inevitable, as Dave Howell discovers

Electronic medical records

Tested in various forms over several years, electronic medical records (EMRs) have great potential. The NHS has successfully transmitted GPs’ medical records over the internet as a proof of concept. In their recent report, analysts Frost & Sullivan say: “EMRs are poised to improve patient care, reduce healthcare expenses and fundamentally change the way in which medicine is practised.”

The next phase of EMRs may be to move them to the cloud, effectively storing them online. EMRs and the cloud could make your X-ray or MRI scan instantly available to the specialist who will treat you. Or you could check your records for the last time you ordered a prescription with your smartphone or computer. If you need specialist treatment, or move home, your records don’t have to move with you as they are in the cloud and accessible to your new GP and hospital.

Medical imaging in the cloud

MRI, CT scans and X-rays are all routine tests carried out thousands of times each day. In some cases, the results of these tests have in the past taken weeks to reach the specialist who ordered them. But what if these results could be instantly available as soon as the test was complete? This is the promise of cloud imaging that is coming to your hospital soon.

Securely storing test results in the cloud opens a whole new world of possibilities. Just as music, films and books have been digitised, so too will your medical records and any other data concerning your health. Once this information is in the cloud, it can be accessed by any healthcare professional looking after you.

For the NHS, the cost savings from making use of the cloud could be huge, as well as delivering more efficient and effective patient care.

Pop-up surgery

The Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London has developed an inflatable operating theatre used to train new surgeons, a technology funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Visitors to this summer’s Cheltenham Science Festival were the first to see the pop-up operating theatre in action. They could watch surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses carry out a laparotomy operation on a silicon model.

Training operating theatres are common in hospitals, but Imperial’s technology can be easily transported to any location. The theatre itself is equipped with lightweight versions of lighting and realistic sound effects to simulate an operating-theatre environment.

Every component of the theatre can be dismantled, flat-packed and fits into the boot of a car. With a conventional, static simulated operating theatre costing upwards of £1 million, this low-cost portable theatre could transform how surgeons and their support teams are trained in the future.



DIY eHealth

People who want to be proactive about their wellbeing now have an arsenal of new technology to monitor their health. Portable blood pressure and glucose testing devices have been around for years. But, as technology has developed, so has the range of domestic healthcare devices.

Technology that used to be available only in hospitals for specialists can now be bought in the high street. And as healthcare becomes increasingly integrated, these devices will soon be able wirelessly to communicate their readings to your GP or specialist.

But technology you will be using in your home is about to get even more personal. Do you often forget to take medication? What if the tablets you had been prescribed knew whether they had been taken or not? This is now possible with technology from companies like Proteus Digital Health that have developed a system that tells your doctor when you have taken your pills.

Patient monitoring

Within the medical environment, the arrival of the app culture has brought about a quiet revolution. Powerful smartphones and fast cellular networks mean doctors can use technology to monitor their patients, giving healthcare professionals a completely new level of patient insight and care.

Systems like AirStrip Solutions are being used in hospitals across the United States to allow doctors to keep an eye on their patients in intensive care. This mobile phone app can deliver test results, update medications for patients, view heart monitor data and see in real time how a patient is.

The mobilising of healthcare, thanks to powerful digital devices such as the tablet computer that didn’t exist a few years ago, is freeing doctors and other specialists to treat more patients with greater efficiency. The NHS has launched its own information strategy document to harness the benefits of app technology.