Increased interest in video conferencing from UK health trusts

Systems enable remote monitoring of patients, instant expert feedback and doctor-to-doctor discussion

With healthcare budgets being squeezed and the NHS charged with making services more accessible and more efficient, video conferencing technology is fast being adopted by forward-thinking trusts.

It can be used by community nurses to liaise with consultants and GPs to decide on the best course of treatment for a patient; it can be used by doctors looking for advice from more senior or specialist medics; and it can be used for conferencing between different medical teams.

Starleaf is at the forefront of this revolution, providing healthcare operators with cloud-based technology charged by usage and with no upfront capital costs.

The solutions enable multi-person video conference calls to be undertaken from various devices including desktop computers, PCs, Macs and iPads.

Rather than going into nursing or care homes, the health service is keen to help people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, supported by health and care services

Speaking to BBH, Michelle Durban, marketing director at Starleaf, explained: “Rather than going into nursing or care homes, the health service is keen to help people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, supported by health and care services.

“Caregivers need to be able to go into patients’ homes, take an iPad or other device with them, and if they have any concerns ring a call centre where doctors or nurses are more qualified to interview the patients and give advice. Video technology means they can do this face to face without the patient having to go to hospital or to their GP and without the doctor needing to make a home visit.”

With the advancements in technology, this has huge potential for saving costs and, in some cases, speeding up diagnoses.

“The lovely thing about iPads, for example,” says Durban, “is that they can take pictures of legions or wounds and will focus four inches away and can be moved around to take images from different angles. These images can then be reviewed remotely by specialists.”

Conferencing will also come in handy in remote places, such as some towns and islands that are miles away from the nearest hospitals and on oilrigs in the middle of the sea.

“In this sort of environment it can be a really good tool,” Durban adds. “Video conferencing means you can call in expertise from anywhere, whether it’s a doctor-to-doctor meeting or a group of specialists holding a cancer clinic to discuss patients and pick each other’s brains.

The Starleaf system went live in December and Durban said: “The NHS is interested in video conferencing and some investments have already been made.”

The Starleaf system can run on existing technology, so no upfront cost is incurred, and the supplier has recently launched a Guest Invite function, where a user can invite anyone to download the software for free. The company has also launched a concurrent pricing package based on usage.

An example where videoconferencing technology is working is in south east Scotland.

NHS Lothian has been working with supplier, Polycom, to host case meetings at the regional cancer centre and to connect geographically-dispersed clinicians working remotely to help them feel engaged and to enable them to share information. Patients are also invited to speak to experts in Edinburgh in cases where travel is not possible. In addition, it has been used in sleep study cases, physiotherapy and to improve liaison between the health board and the local authority.

Video conferencing means you can call in expertise from anywhere, whether it’s a doctor-to-doctor meeting or a group of specialists holding a cancer clinic to discuss patients and pick each other’s brains

In terms of creating efficiencies, one meeting held by the board via videoconferencing was found to save £1,600 in travel expenses alone.

Iain Robertson, head of IT infrastructure and operations at NHS Lothian, said: “The results speak for themselves. We are more connected than ever, with the ability to use voice, video, unified communications, and telepresence all in one call.”

In England, the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children was one of the first to embrace the approach, installing a Radvision SCOPIA XT1000 system to allow video-conferencing with the Royal Cornwall and Royal Devon and Exeter hospitals, with hospitals in Torbay and Swindon connected later.

Dr Andy Tometzki, consultant paediatric and foetal cardiologist at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Video conferencing equipment delivers unprecedented diagnostic-quality images. Rapid remote assessment helps to reduce the intense anxiety of the family who would otherwise have stressful and long journey to and from Bristol."

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