The NHS should embrace wearable tech, says Royal Free CIO

The NHS must tackle a "series of privacy issues" raised by wearable technologies to pave the way for its adoption to become widespread, Royal Free Hospital CIO Will Smart has said.


The NHS should adopt wearable technologies to improve patient monitoring and care, Royal Free Hospital CIO Will Smart has said.

“I’m sure wearables will become embedded within NHS practice, though I suspect it is probably a few years off,” he told ComputerworldUK.

The most obvious application is the ability to pull physiological data from wearables into a system that can be used to alert clinicians on patients’ condition in real time, Smart said.

Its uses are likely to expand as the technology develops, from simply providing alerts for staff to being an important part of clinical practice and surgical operations, he predicted.

However he warned: “There are a series of privacy issues we need to look at first. For example some have been interested in how Google Glass might be used to record operations.”

“Microsoft have their virtual reality headset, we can begin to see how that might be used in simulation or to connect to operating robots,” Smart added.

To support the use of wearables, NHS trusts will first have to ensure they have adequate means to collect, store and analyse digital patient data in real time.

The Royal Free Hospital expects to have finished digitising all of its legacy patient records by this Christmas, Smart said.

Last year, the hospital contracted provider MISL to scan its case notes using Kodak scanners, working its way through about 140 boxes of medical files a day, equivalent to 350,000 pages.

In the meantime it has rolled out Cerner’s electronic patient record, so all data on new patients is digitised and it has a “comprehensive single record” of all clinical data.

The hospital then hopes to analyse the data it holds to see where it can improve patient care and drive efficiencies.   

“We haven’t landed on any particular toolset for analytics at the moment but we’re starting to talk to suppliers,” he said.

The hospital is currently “actively looking” at which systems it could migrate to the cloud, according to Smart.

“I suspect the first things we’ll move to cloud are some infrastructure services. We’re looking at virtualising our desktops, getting that to be cloud based,” he said.

However the hospital is “treading very carefully” about moving more sensitive clinical systems to cloud, Smart said.

“I think ‘never say never’. You can’t rule anything out. But we have to be convinced on cost and security. We’re a very regulated environment”, he added.

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