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Computer vision: Supporting the future NHS workforce

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

Growing a future workforce that delivers the highest-quality care to patients is an exciting prospect. It’s also essential for building a healthcare system fit for the 21st century — something that the Interim NHS People Plan, the future vision for the NHS, recognises.

The NHS is committed to devoting more time for quality care and the Interim People Plan serves to confirm this. But with squeezed budgets and time-poor staff, this is proving difficult. Meanwhile, new technologies such as mobile computer vision and AR are helping to alleviate these problems, providing clinicians with the tools they need to improve systems and patient care.

Sophisticated but simple-to-use and familiar technology

Improving efficiency plays a crucial role in helping the NHS to deliver superior care. However, full digitalisation is some time off and the health service remains dependent on outdated processes, from paper records to manual patient checks. On top of this, an ageing population and rapid developments in new treatments is creating unprecedented demand, straining systems and leading to delays and errors from over-pressured staff.

The NHS has already taken steps to ease these challenges, implementing technology to improve communication as well as patient care. For example, the NHS Apps Library provides patients with a catalogue of mobile apps to help with anything from managing prescriptions to communicating with clinicians. Yet, more can be done to resolve the challenges that frontline staff are facing.

Imagine if all healthcare workers have instant access to real-time patient information at every stage, from the point of admission through to being discharged. By establishing a mobile platform, where staff have access to detailed records from a mobile app on a familiar smartphone, by scanning barcodes on wristbands, labels and supplies, this can be a reality.  Smart mobile scanning can help to ensure that the right treatment, medication and support is given to the right patients at the right time, without delays.

Upgrading for cost control as well as productivity

Barcodes and alphanumeric codes are ubiquitous in all aspects of healthcare – to identify patients, medication and supplies. Employees typically use dedicated scanning devices to scan these codes during regular workflows. But there is a growing trend to replace this costly hardware and infrastructure with flexible, intuitive mobile apps on smart devices. Given the prevalence of smartphones and mobile apps in their everyday lives, employees welcome the convenience they bring to their work. Put simply, innovations in computer vision mean any camera-enabled device can be transformed into a powerful scanner – a data capture tool – to connect barcodes with any hospital data source and bring it to the clinicians and nurses on the wards. Then by adding augmented reality (AR) to the mix, any real-time information can be overlaid onto the device screen.

For example, healthcare apps on smart devices can scan medication information into a record in seconds—fully digitalising hospital’s medication administration workflow procedures and improving safety in the process. Or, by scanning a patient’s wristband, staff have instant visibility of dosages, allergy information, patient history, lab workups or inventory.  The AR-overlay displays this real-time information instantly after the barcode is scanned. It’s easy to envisage the time savings and reduced human error this approach provides.  

Using this type of smart scanning injects new levels of speed, accuracy and flexibility to healthcare. Mobile data capture and display devices deliver the same speed and accuracy as traditional, inflexible dedicated scanners. What’s more, the cost savings can help equip all staff with smart mobile scanning, rather than teams having to share a small number of dedicated devices. As a result, information and insight flows faster and more freely throughout the system, enabling staff to achieve more in less time and avoid errors.

The uses for mobile scanning apps in healthcare are numerous. From tracking medical equipment to automating manual data entry, mobile computer vision helps free up time to care for patients. For example, scanning instruments etched with barcodes before and after surgery is a key process to achieve transparent, cost-efficient and reliable tracking of surgical equipment. Certain apps benefit from advanced software that scans multiple barcodes at once, found on specimens, blood bags, or medication, to search, find and highlight specific items.

Digital healthcare for the 21st century patient

The UK is looking for a healthcare model which places care and efficiency at its heart. Speeding up processes and providing doctors, nurses and clinicians with improved insights will help them devote their time and energy to their patients.

Digitalisation is key to making the NHS a more agile, inclusive and a modern employer. Small improvements have a big impact on the quality of care and with its new future vision, the NHS is already on the right track.

A healthcare system fit for the 21st century patient doesn’t require largescale investments in new IT systems, it can be done with highly cost-effective mobile devices and software. By providing staff with familiar devices from which they can easily access hospital data, siloed operations and paper records will be a thing of the past. Mobile computer vision and AR technologies can future-proof the NHS and act as a remedy to the pressures of outdated processes – it’s time to bring healthcare up to scratch.

Paul Davis, VP for UK & Northern Europe, Scandit