Doctors get patient data on the move

Addenbrookes Hospital is to use mobile PCs to improve efficiency on the wards. Karl Cushing reports

Addenbrookes Hospital is to use mobile PCs to improve efficiency on the wards. Karl Cushing reports

Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge is to pilot a wireless handheld electronic patient record system to help it prescribe medicines more efficiently and save staff time. Doctors and nurses at the hospital will use the mobile PCs to access critical care records and prescribe medicines when on the wards.

The pilot was the idea of Will Wilson, deputy chief pharmacist at the hospital. Part of Wilson's remit was to look at electronic prescription systems, so he went to Marseilles to visit a hospital that was already using the handheld system. "I thought it was a very interesting, very innovative way of looking at it," says Wilson. "We see it as a multidisciplinary patient information system."

Wilson hopes the system will "support the process of care" by reducing the amount of time needed for staff to fill out forms. He says the number of forms the hospital generates is "huge", with paperwork being duplicated three or four times.
Forms such as drug charts often get misplaced or get sent to the wrong department, so the provision of an online drug chart is "very attractive", says Wilson. He also believes the system will enable doctors to carry out audits in "minutes" as opposed to the weeks it currently takes.

The system should reduce dosing errors because it will be possible to trace prescriptions, allowing staff to see who prescribed what to whom and when. "It makes it safer," says Wilson. "You can easily query anything that looks strange."

To put this in perspective, a recent Audit Commission report suggested that medication errors cost the NHS £500m a year and caused about 1,000 deaths. Wilson says the system is very intuitive.

"It is gesture driven," he explains. "It has been designed from the user backwards." Staff log in and are given relevant information on their wards, with any new patients or patient movements clearly flagged up. Senior staff are given access to more tools and more information.

Circling a patients name with the stylus brings up a floating window with more in-depth information. Windows can be closed by drawing an "X" on them, while writing a question mark brings up the help option. Staff can input information by filling in "notes" using the stylus. To make it more secure, no information is stored on the hard drives of the handhelds, which use 128-bit encryption and support the 802.11b wireless standard.

The hospital is currently validating the system, which was developed by French software firm Stylus and is being marketed in the UK by Northgate Information Solutions under the name Express Clinical Manager. The three-month pilot will begin in May and, if successful, the hospital will look at using its full functionality.

Wilson believes the hospital can achieve cost savings by using the system but stresses that this is not the key driver behind the pilot. "It is the improvement in the quality of the care that we are after," he says.

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