Data link saves time and lives

Sending scans of head injuries to experts over the Net will help speed up treatment, writes Karl Cushing

Sending scans of head injuries to experts over the Net will help speed up treatment, writes Karl Cushing

St Mary's NHS Trust and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) in London have teamed up to implement an online image and data link for sharing radiological scans. The system will enable them to treat time-critical head injuries more effectively.

The instant data link means that head injury scans taken at St Mary's accident and emergency (A&E) department in Paddington are accessible to experts at the Holborn-based NHNN in a matter of seconds, instead of having to be put on film and sent be courier across London. As the quality of the online images is equivalent to the film-based images, neurosurgeons can make the same informed decisions as if they had a piece of film in their hand.

Rapid treatment for head injuries is crucial and the new system means that patients will have a greater chance of being treated within the so-called "golden hour" after sustaining an injury. This should dramatically improve the chances of saving lives or avoiding serious brain damage.

Last year the A&E unit at St Mary's saw more than 1,800 head injury cases, of which nearly 500 resulted in a diagnosis of neurological head injury.

"The new software means that the process for diagnosing and treating some of our most critically ill patients - those with head injuries - has been radically streamlined," says Deborah Cunningham, a consultant radiologist at St Mary's.

"The quality of the images is excellent too: the neurology experts are able to make tighter diagnoses through viewing the images using the new software. It means our patients have access to an expert view within a matter of seconds."

The software for the link, installed on a PC server at St Mary's, allows CT (computed tomography) scans to be instantly downloaded and viewed securely in real time by authorised users at NHNN via a standard Web browse. Staff at NHNN can then offer advice on the patient's treatment at St Mary's and determine whether they should be transferred to the NHNN.

The system is based on Pirilis clinical IT from ComMedica, a spin-off company from Imperial College London which was launched in 1999 to commercialise electronic patient IT. The online imaging system also makes use of existing computer hardware and the NHS intranet.

St Mary's NHS Trust has a comprehensive range of acute and specialist services delivered from its two main sites in St Mary's Hospital in Paddington and the Western Eye Hospital in Marylebone Road.

The NHNN is part of the University College London Hospitals Trust. It is a leading centre for the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease, as well as head injuries.

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