Posted on November 25, 2016 by staff

Ear today, the world tomorrow


Anyone who doubts the impact that technology can have on the NHS should get Ajith George to examine their inner ear.

Mr George is an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at the Royal Stoke University Hospital and was one of 18 speakers at BusinessCloud’s ‘Transforming healthcare through technology’ conference in Chorley on Wednesday.

The event attracted an audience of 130 people and was trending on Twitter but it was the five minutes I spent with the ENT surgeon over lunch that left the biggest impression.

Mr George and three colleagues have produced a piece of technology called an endoscope-i, which reduces needless hospital visits, improves diagnosis times and saves the cash-strapped NHS serious money.

In simple terms the device 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.

The need for such a device is obvious. The previous system meant that patients were waiting 6-12 weeks for an appointment and, in one instance, Mr George saw a patient in June 2016 who had been referred by their GP in June 2015!

So when Mr George grabbed me over lunch and offered me a demonstration of the kit, how could I say no?

He inserted a probe in my ear and I could see what the camera could see. “You’ll probably be able to see out my other ear,” I joked.

Bad gags aside, the technology was amazing. He then carried out the same process on my other ear and talked me through the findings. “I’d give your ears 10/10,” he said. He took a couple of photos and sent them via Bluetooth to my phone.

The whole process took less than five minutes. If I’d gone to see an ENT specialist they would have just looked in my ear and given me the thumbs up. This way they have photos that they can go back to if I have an ear problem later in life.

And here’s the good bit. You can see 15 patients in four hours in a clinic, but this rises to 80 in the same time in a virtual clinic using the  endoscope-i. 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.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says the NHS must save £22bn and technology like the endoscope-i is part of the solution.

The device has got buy-in from the NHS in Staffordshire but it needs to be rolled out across the country to achieve economies of scale.

The experience led me to reach two conclusions. The first is that there’s a lot of expertise in the NHS that needs to be harnessed. The second is that we the public need to take ownership of our health and demand the sort of improvements that technology can bring.