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Cardiff’s new approach to IT in healthcare

14 Tachwedd 2007

University researchers, working in partnership with IBM, have developed a new approach to the use of information technology in healthcare which could allow people with long term conditions to have their health more consistently monitored in their own homes.

The School of Medicine’s Diabetes Research Unit (DRU) and the School of Computer Science’s Welsh e-Science Centre (WeSC) devised the new approach on the basis of real-world NHS processes for managing long-term conditions such as diabetes.

A wide range of health-related information such as weight, blood pressure, or blood glucose levels in the case of diabetes can be monitored via sensor devices which use wireless communications to securely transfer the data to a local clinic. Information based on specific trends in that data can be fed back with educational support for ongoing self-monitoring of patients’ conditions. The system is designed to support personalized disease prevention - giving healthcare professionals early warning of adverse trends and permitting early interventions.

The system, called Healthcare@Home, offers consistency on a national scale for the measurement and prediction of acute and long-term disease risk. It gives healthcare providers a wider range of technical solutions to deliver more personalized and cost-effective services to their patients. The UK Government’s Technology Strategy Board is commending the project as an example of best practice.

The entire system creates a ‘platform’ for innovating patient-centred care. Incorporation of global standards for ‘plug-in’ devices and high-value software services will give rise to new economic development opportunities for UK companies. The approach reduces waste and encourages re-use of innovative streamlined business process solutions on a large scale. These ‘scaleable’ approaches are critical for spreading best practice while lowering costs and constitute a new sustainable approach to providing advanced telehealth and telecare services.

Professor David R. Owens CBE, Director of the Diabetes Research Unit at Cardiff University, said: "If implemented, this project will allow staff to better prioritise the use of their time and resources and to direct more effort towards those patients having difficulty self-managing or at higher risk of developing complications. By allowing patients’ access to and control of their own data, they will be able to gain greater understanding of their condition."

Dr Ed Conley, the project’s business requirements analyst, said: "Our approach has been driven by healthcare business processes, not led by technology. The result is a potentially disruptive model for the use of IT in healthcare."

John Crawford, Healthcare Solutions Manager for IBM in the UK and Ireland said: "Supporting those with long-term conditions through the use of remote monitoring and patient feedback shows great promise across several disease types. This landmark project clearly demonstrates the potential of clinically-driven innovative thinking, underpinned by information technology, to transform how long-term conditions are managed, whilst improving the patient experience and outcomes"

Alex Hardisty, Manager of the Welsh e-Science Centre, added: "It is a good example of how the innovative computing techniques developed for e-Science can be re-applied to problems in other areas; in this case, healthcare."

Other partners in the project included Smart Holograms of Cambridge Science Park, who developed wireless sensors which measure blood glucose and other analyte concentrations, while Zarlink Semiconductor created technologies to assist in authentication of patient identity.