A hospital is using a smartphone gadget to optimise efficiency in its  ear, nose and throat department.

Ajith George, an ENT surgeon at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, and three colleagues are reducing needless hospital visits, improving diagnosis time and saving money with the endoscope-i.

The device, conceived in 2012, enables GPs to attach an endoscope to their smartphone, allowing them to take photographs of what they see when looking in a patient’s ear or throat.

“Currently GPs or nursing practitioners look in the ear and then draw a picture of what they see, which is a bit archaic and comes down to the artistic skills of the GP,” George says.

“The picture gets sent to an ENT specialist who could look at the ear four months down the line and judge how the ear looks compared to the picture.”

On top of this, increased capacity in the NHS means the department is massively oversubscribed, George says, meaning patients are waiting longer for a hospital appointment after initial contact with their GP.

The average is six to 12 weeks, but George adds: “I saw a patient in a clinic in June who had been referred by their GP in June 2015, which is ridiculous.”

The endoscope-i comes with an app that changes a smartphone’s camera settings to brighten the picture and requires the GP to fill in a bullet-pointed history of the problem.

Both are then sent to George and fellow director Chris Coulson, who make a diagnosis and suggest a course of treatment within 24 hours.

Mark Prince Simon Pargeter Chris Coulson and Ajith George

Mark Prince, Simon Pargeter, Chris Coulson and Ajith George

As well as quickening up the recovery process and saving the patient time in visiting the hospital, there are obvious savings to the hospital.

“I could see 15 patients in four hours in a clinic but I can deal with 80 in the same time in the virtual clinic,” George says.

 “In Stoke it costs £107 for a GP to refer a patient to secondary care but if they do it using this system it’s only £27, which is a massive difference for what we see as a better quality service.

“The technology was staring us in the face. Everyone says smartphones are the solution to a lot of problems and it made sense for us to create something that put two and two together.”

The device has been piloted by the Heart of England NHS Trust after securing a regional innovation fund grant from NHS England in 2013.

It will also be used in 14 PCT practices in Stoke and Staffordshire between September and March 2017 and George says work is going on to see how hospital consultants would factor in these referrals.

“It would just be a case of a consultant committing a couple of hours of their day to answering referrals – the advantage would be that work could be done anywhere.”

Two thousand devices have been sold in 70 countries and there are also other uses the team – which also includes engineer Mark Prince and software developer Simon Pargeter – did not foresee.

British Gas are in discussions about using it to scope cavity walls and the Mercedes Petronas F1 team are interested in using it to relay information from their garages back to the UK.

The company also supplied an endoscope-i and designed an app for world cycling body the UCI which led to the first incident of motor doping – where a bike is modified with a concealed motor – being discovered in January this year.

It was due to be used as the official screening device in the Tour de France and the Rio Olympics. 

There are many other firms changing the face of healthcare with technology.

London-based Ctrl Group is involved in projects supporting dementia care and monitoring mental health.

The MyRecovery app provides patients with access to clinical information when required and invites them to take part in their own care following surgery.

Scottish start-up Snap40 has created a tool which can ensure healthcare staff can easily identify high-risk patients, both at home and in hospital, and allow them to take potentially life-saving action sooner rather than later.

Qardio produces a range of healthcare monitoring devices allowing users to monitor their heart, blood pressure and weight.

Heart disease, one of the biggest killers in the UK, can be detected using Alivecor's smartphone system which takes a 30-second ECG reading.

One key area is ensuring that patients are taking the medicines they’re prescribed – which is where eLucid mHealth comes in.

Skin Analytics is a tool which aims to improve the survival rate for melanoma skin cancer by providing users with a low-cost way to identify moles which could be cancerous.

Florence is a telecom-based tech is looking to reduce hospital admissions and keep people in their homes for longer.

Dublin-based start-up Beats Medical helps to improve the lives of those with Parkinson’s disease.

And Eva Diagnostics is a company whose aim is to revolutionise blood tests so they can be analysed without a hospital laboratory - potentially improving the lives of people undergoing chemotherapy.

 

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