One of the great things about working at Headforwards is that staff are encouraged and supported to do all we can to make a positive difference to the world and develop our own skills and initiatives outside of work.
My own journey has led me to create a healthcare tech system called Doctor Pulse, initially for Electronic Health Records, which is being trialled and developed in partnership with a hospital in India.
Digitisation of Records
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are real time digital versions of patient records. As a comprehensive report of an individual’s overall health, EHRs help track the patient’s clinical progress, facilitate improved healthcare decisions, and provide evidence- based care. They are a vital tool to help deliver robust patient care and they are commonly used around the developed world.
However, in India and other parts of Asia, patient records are still mainly paper based in government-owned hospitals and they are used by only a few private hospitals. Despite initiatives such as the government’s flagship Digital India programme, adoption of EHRs remains extremely low.
This is because the development and implementation of EHRs involve a great number of challenges. As well as the need for high initial investment and concern about data security, acceptance of EHR by doctors is also perceived as a significant barrier. Electronic heath records are seen to be creating more work for healthcare professionals, many of whom do not have a high degree of computer literacy. They see new software and the need for software training as an unwelcome additional time pressure. In India, the patient to doctor ratio is an astounding 10,000:1, so there is enormous pressure on the time of doctors.
Inexpensive and Practical
In the face of these challenges, I could see the potential for an inexpensive and practical digital system comfortably manageable by doctors, with minimal technological interaction, so that doctors can spend maximum time on patient care.
Having spotted this opportunity, I decided to create a system that could work in harmony with doctors’ normal daily routines and that would require no special technical or PC skills to use. This means that digitization can be introduced to healthcare settings in India with minimal disruption.
I started to develop the Dr Pulse system, at the heart of which is a specially designed Digital Notepad, similar to an Amazon Kindle.
Using this device, healthcare professionals can continue to write their observations and notes naturally as if they were writing on paper, using a stylus. These notes can be transferred and saved to the EHR system with a simple button press, built into the notepad.
Ensuring accuracy and protecting patient data are vital in any EHR system, so the Digital Notepad has built-in security features to ensure the safe and secure transfer of patient notes. A further benefit of this system is that it is very cost-effective to produce, which is also an important consideration. It will run using open-source Android software, making it easier for hospitals to integrate it into their existing systems.
But the overriding benefit is that it allows healthcare professional to update patient notes ‘on the run’ while they are doing their normal daily rounds. This makes Doctor Pulse perfectly suited to the working practices and culture of Indian hospitals.
A director from a major hospital in India expressed interest in the Dr Pulse approach and asked me to develop a working prototype of the Digital Notepad, which the hospital trialled in late 2019. This has led to really useful feedback and suggestions for additional features which are now allowing me to fine tune the product.
The Digital Notepad is only the first step in a pioneering health tech project, working in partnership with the hospital. As the next step, the EHR will integrate with readings from machines in the hospital such as scan machines and MRI machines so doctors can see results faster, saving them valuable time. A standard platform will then enable scan results to be shared across hospitals, eradicating the need for duplicate scans when a patient is referred to a specialist or further hospital. And finally, this will lead to the development of an AI model whereby scan results can be instantly analysed, meaning faster accurate diagnosis.
The use of AI to analyse results will be the gamechanger which will create a step change in the quality of patient care that can be delivered by hospitals.
By working with the hospital in India, there is access to the kind of volume and breadth of patients that is required to build and test an AI model of this kind. Once created and trialled in India, the market potential for such an AI system is truly global.
Although this is an ambitious project, I am delighted to say that Doctor Pulse is now well on the way to a full launch.
It is a richly rewarding experience to know that this innovation can make such a difference and to help bring new technologies to hospitals in India and elsewhere, leading to improved patient care and potentially saving lives.