A virtual reality treadmill is one of the tech developments suggested to improve a Middlesbrough hospital.
Andrew Owens, a cardiothoracic surgeon and director of innovation at South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, asked local emerging tech business Spearhead Interactive for their input on where the trust could use technology.
Managing director Dan Riley spent a day at James Cook Hospital shadowing lung surgeon Joel Dunning, already a technology pioneer in the use of robotics to perform operations.
Among his recommendations were the use of equipment trackers that would send an alert if the item leaves a certain boundary and a system that would automatically reorder stock when it fell below a certain level.
He also suggested a 360-degree virtual reality treadmill that could be used by physio staff to allow patients to exercise – suggestions Owens is keen to see in place.
Below: A general VR treadmill in action
“Cardiovascular surgery patients have to walk up and down the corridor with one member of staff to one patient,” Riley, who will speak at BusinessCloud’s tech in healthcare conference in November, said.
“If you had five patients on treadmills with one nurse watching them that’s a saving straight away, and they could be taken out of the hospital environment to walk along a beach thanks to virtual reality.
“Some of these things aren’t very expensive and they’re really easy to set up.”
The challenge for the trust now, Owens says, is ensuring there is a real benefit and saving to be made by incorporating some of the tech.
“There’s some interesting research going to go on to work out how we can introduce some of these suggestions,” he said.
“We’ve seen how the robotics surgery we’re doing is constantly evolving so that we can make smaller incisions and therefore the impact on patients and the length of stay in hospital has reduced.
“That has meant we can offer lifesaving lung surgery to cancer patients who weren’t deemed fit enough to undergo surgery before.
“The impact of technology on medicine has really accelerated and innovations are going to come in faster than ever.”
Many of those innovations are expected to involve the use of smart devices to provide remote care, potentially saving the NHS billions of pounds.
However Owens says the ‘home monitoring’ approach – where patients would only go into hospital when absolutely necessary – should be balanced with patients’ need for the social side of healthcare.
“Home monitoring is fine but patients lose the camaraderie of coming into hospital – there is a cost saving and a saving in travel time, but we need to do some research into where the social side is important and where it’s not,” he added.
A digital revolution is occurring in healthcare: wearable tech, 3D printing and the increased presence of telecare are pieces of a health jigsaw slowly taking shape as the sector comes under pressure to be more efficient and spread innovation.