The Ward Camera Can Be Seen As Friend Not Foe Of The NHS Paperless Strategy

Dec 10, 2014


Mark Winstone, Sales and Marketing Director at SynApps Solutions, the content management solutions specialist, looks at how technology is helping the NHS with the major challenge of photography management.

The use of photo documentation in hospitals is nothing new in areas such as wound care, for example.  A picture as they say can be worth a thousand words. Similarly, even the most experienced doctor or nurse may not be able to describe a wound with the same accuracy as an image. But with the arrival of digital photography, many in-house photography teams have had the curtain dropped on them.

But in doing so hospitals have replaced photographic order with anarchy. Instead of old-fashioned in-house photographers taking images, labelling and archiving them – nurses have been handed a digital camera and given the task. Nurses often haven’t got the time to log them and they are left sitting on a memory stick or a computer somewhere, instead of being stored on the hospital’s PAS (patient administration system) for reference.

This is creating some real headaches. Photographs can assist in protecting the liability of a hospital. If for example, a nursing home resident is transferred to hospital and then returns to the nursing home with pressure ulcers, each facility is going to have its own story. With photographic evidence the hospital has some way of protecting itself.

It goes without saying that hospitals are facing the same hurdle with video of routine procedure such as endoscopies. So what route can be taken to help hospitals out of this unruly mess when it comes to logging digital images and in the future video? Firstly an extension can be slotted into the back of digital cameras that intelligently routes the images to a Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA). Northampton, for example, is one of the latest NHS Trust convinced that a Vendor Neutral Archive is an essential route to a full Electronic Patient Record.

The porting of Nottingham Trust’s in-house patient image library is the first move to deploying a VNA archive as part of its local, digital EPR (Electronic Patient Record) system.  This will provide the foundation for patients to look at their patient record, aligned with the so called ‘Five Year Forward View’ NHS England plan that looks to local systems to help make a full paperless NHS a reality by 2018.

Creating such an archive system that is backed up, searchable and secure is not complex. The system asks the clinician to enter the NHS ID number of the patient.  This links the image to the main hospital database where the patient’s records sit.  This approach not only addresses the issue of archiving images, it also provides the connected electronic patient record the NHS is looking to build across its infrastructure.

Photographic technology management for hospitals is a win-win situation at all levels.  It enables frontline nursing staff to get this task done fast and efficiently. At the same time the CCIO, the Chief Clinical Information Officer (the IT leader in hospitals who looks after the health-IT interface) has a compliant, robust system in place that fulfills the brief.  The CIO or IT Director of the Trust can be safe in the knowledge that all digital media is being controlled, validated and archived correctly.

But let us not forget the patients in this equation. As a result of a more efficient technology system housing accurate data, healthcare and the time clinicians can spend with them will be noticeably enhanced.

Hospitals and Trusts need to address the issue of digital images and video now, if the government and NHS get anywhere close to its dream of paperless systems by 2018 – in a move to save the health service billions of pounds a year.

At the moment digital progress in the NHS is still sketchy – with some having run with the concept, whilst other areas lag behind still. They key is that whatever photographic solution a Trust or hospital decides to adopt it should be part of an expanding VNA solution created for NHS users that can manage digital data without the need for expensive add-ons. VNAs ensure that digital information is available where and when it is needed.

Comprehensive electronic patient records certainly have the potential to give staff more time to spend with patients, thereby improving care. Getting to grips with hospital photography and the archiving and sharing of digital images is a sure fire way to providing a secure system that will help the NHS improve its service and the challenges of an ageing population.

The author is Sales & Marketing Director at SynApps Solutions: his firm has developed a special new system called ConXPhoto to help NHS Trusts, such as Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, get to grips with photography management issues (

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