Trial of tele-ophthalmology system at regional health board in Scotland shows promising results

NHS Forth Valley was awarded £37,200 by the Scottish government for the project.
By Leontina Postelnicu
10:27 AM

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde and NHS Forth Valley have developed a tele-ophthalmology system that, according to recent data, has reduced the need for follow-up appointments and waiting times for treatments in over 50% of cases.

The trial started at the Scottish regional NHS board, which provides services to around 300,000 people, in April. Dr Mario Giardini from the University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering worked on the development of the system with Dr Iain Livingstone, consultant ophthalmologist and Strathclyde honorary lecturer.

HOW IT WORKS

Usually, eye emergencies are first seen by non-specialists in A&E departments. After an initial assessment, patients are sent to be examined by an ophthalmologist, but this means that they might have to travel to a new location and wait in a queue.

“Our system, by using a combination of 3D printed and mobile technology, allows NHS Near Me [a teleconferencing system for the NHS in Scotland that uses a platform called 'Attend Anywhere'] to see through the instruments used in A&E for eye emergencies,” Dr Giardini told Healthcare IT News.

WHY IT MATTERS

It therefore allows patients to get “immediate access to qualified assistance,” Dr Giardini added, but it does not interface directly to health records at this stage.  

“It is a teleconferencing system with a direct link to instrumentation and is currently not interfaced to other NHS IT systems,” he explained. “Doing so would require a thorough consideration on data governance, and this may be approached in due course.”

The system is now being used at two hospitals within NHS Forth Valley and is also being evaluated at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, the largest one in Scotland.

“A comprehensive set of quantitative and non-quantitative analytical data is being collected on the performance at system level, within the constraints of the necessary NHS data governance, to build an evidence base for impact, benefits, and patient and staff perception,” Dr Giardini said. “The figures [mentioned above] are derived from the data gathered so far, after a few months from entry into service.”

The Scottish NHS Board received an award of £37,200 through the Scottish government’s Technology Enabled Care (TEC) programme for the project.

“We have received interest from other health boards and, as per the remit of the TEC programme, we are in the process of staging a scale-up plan, to adequately balance availability of the technology, with the necessary consideration to the evidence base that will be gathered through the scale-up process itself,” the lecturer added.

ON THE RECORD

Commenting on the trial, Jeane Freeman, Scotland's health secretary, said: “This project demonstrates our commitment to new approaches and new technology that improve patient experiences, promote better healthcare outcomes, and support clinicians in their work.

“Across the country we are seeing an expansion of Attend Anywhere across a range of disciplines, and I look forward to its continuing success.”