Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and Edinburgh Napier University are trialling a cloud-based patient records service that promises to give patients better control over who sees their medical records and data, as well as allowing health workers to provide more comprehensive care.
The pilot E-Health Cloud scheme is being run with help from cloud computing company Flexiant, which has worked with the university and hospital on integrating the e-health service. It is hoped that the platform can be used to replace the ageing systems that are currently in place, in order to provide a cohesive source of patient care information.
"A lot of the systems we have in healthcare right now are legacy based; they don't integrate, so often you'll have regional differences between trusts that might use a different database or a different system for the same activity," Professor Bill Buchanan of Edinburgh Napier University told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "The new system is really a look into the future to see how we could design an e-health platform that can be robust."
The E-Health Cloud platform allows patient data and healthcare records to be stored in a centralised location that is accessible from any web-enabled device, including tablets and smartphones. In the future, it is hoped that the scheme could be used to integrate all phases of healthcare treatment, from assisted living to primary and secondary healthcare.
"A major problem in healthcare is that there isn't an integrated path between assisted living and primary and secondary healthcare. You can go home from hospital and you can't take your data with you, there isn't a formal handover process from hospital to home," Buchanan added.
The new system is really a look into the future to see how we could design an e-health platform that can be robust.– Professor Bill Buchanan
Users of the e-health pilot platform can retain control over who accesses their medical information, including family members, GPs, consultants and other health carers. "The system is patient-centric in that at the core of the governance policies is the patient's right to allow access to whoever they trust," Buchanan said.
As well as providing records of previous and ongoing treatment, the platform can also operate as an alert system, to prevent problems from getting worse or going unnoticed. For example, it could alert authorised people of a patient's significant drop in weight over a monthly period.
Using a cloud-based infrastructure provides cost and failover benefits that are currently missing from localised systems, Buchanan said.
"There is a risk in the UK system that there isn't really a strong and robust infrastructure [such] that, if there was a power failure in a city, the healthcare system could cope reliably. With a cloud system you can always be sure you can get that backup at any given time," Buchanan said. "Using a cloud system is less expensive than using your own servers; if you need more space you just add more nodes to it. Then, if you have a problem, there's a failover that takes you onto another system, and then another failover and so on."
The success of the platform also rests in part on the security it can provide for the data and patient records. Buchanan described this as a balancing act between allowing access and providing security.
"At the core of what we do is security. We don't allow access to the data at all, no one has access to the core data [except trusted parties]. On the output we provide clinical services that are really locked down to specific machines or roles inside the organisation," he said. "We think what we've created is something that is highly secure but allows access to the things that are really required. It's a balance."
The university worked closely with clinicians to pinpoint which features would be useful in such a platform, Buchanan said. The e-health platform has been in development for 18 months and is now moving into a six-month assessment phase, after which its performance will be measured against metrics such as demonstrated clinical efficiency and business improvements. However, Buchanan added that the real metric is about saving lives and the quality of healthcare received by an individual.
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