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How NHS Nightingale innovation is already helping other hospitals



NHS Nightingale hospitals were created at a remarkable pace in spring 2020. Could the impact of these field hospitals and new ways of working be long lived? Health Tech World discovers how one new way of managing crucial diagnostic images is already helping to solve bigger problems in other hospitals.

When Barts Health NHS Trust was given the mandate to establish the very first COVID-19 field hospital in London, it was tasked with rapidly finding new ways to deliver vital hospital functions in extraordinary circumstances. 

One of these functions related to the way crucial radiology imaging needed to be captured. “We needed a new workflow for this environment,” said Brian Turner*, who was then the Trust’s picture archiving and communication system (PACS) manager. 

“In a standard radiology workflow requests are created in your order comms system. Then they are sent to the radiology information system (RIS).” 

The RIS ordinarily handles departmental workflow, helping to book in scans and to send exams from the scanner with appropriate context to a PACS – the system used by staff to view and analyse patient imaging. 

“The professional then goes back to the RIS to confirm what they have performed, enter dose details and other pertinent information,” added Brian.

“That’s fine in an ordinary setting, but in a setting with potentially 4,000 ICU patients, we needed to streamline a lot.”

Why NHS Nightingale London couldn’t manage with a RIS

NHS Nightingale London – in effect a very large intensive care unit – required mobile chest x-rays and point of care MRI scans to be carried out for patients. 

“Staff are mobile and don’t have access to tools to book patients in,” added Brian. 

And with many Nightingale staff unfamiliar with the Trust’s traditional RIS, an alternative way of managing imaging workflow was needed.

“We had a lot of staff from different trusts,” said Brian. “In London the Sectra PACS is very familiar. But very few staff had seen the Sectra RIS. We wanted to create a system where someone who knew how to take a chest x-ray could come in and deliver the goods. 

“They didn’t need to know about RIS. They didn’t have to know how to log into it in order to book a patient in, or enter anything.”

Turner turned to the Trust’s imaging technology provider Sectra to help. “We asked the question: Is there a way to get the worklist on the mobile machine populated as soon as the exams are requested through the order comms system (the system used by many staff to book all sorts of tests)? This is not a normal radiology or imaging workflow, but Sectra had that up and running in a couple of hours.”

Getting the workflow right at Nightingale was key to being able to deliver effective care, Brian explained: “We were building this for 4,000 patients. Even a one-minute saving on the clinical pathway would be really significant and make a huge difference in an ICU where it was a one to one match for patient and clinician due to the high acuity of patients.” 

An unlikely answer? From plastic surgery to the Nightingale 

The process of removing the traditional RIS for NHS London Nightingale was certainly not typical of how a hospital runs. But it was not entirely without precedent. 

In 2017, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust faced challenges around mini image intensifiers – mobile imaging devices which were being used by the trust’s plastic surgeons to help them perform surgery on patients that had suffered hand injuries. 

With surgeons not accustomed to using a RIS system, images captured by the devices were sent to the Trust’s PACS without the patient information or corresponding order numbers traditionally supplied by the RIS. 

This resulted in orphaned images appearing in the PACS, that would have to be manually allocated to a patient record by a member of staff, creating additional work and potential for error. With the RIS also being the trust’s means to track radiation doses, a potential lack of visibility of radiation doses administered by the mobile image intensifiers also became a point of concern.  

The Trust turned to its PACS supplier Sectra to create a standards based modality worklist for the mini image intensifiers using messages directly from the trust’s order comms systems. The Trust used a system from Sectra, known as the Connectivity Hub, to enable the new process to work.

With surgeons very familiar with the order comms systems for other routine tasks – such as ordering blood tests – this solved the challenge and with theatre staff no longer needed to use the RIS as an additional step in order for imaging to be appropriately sent to the PACS with necessary patient context, order numbers, dose information and other required data. 

It was this seemingly routine response to a customer request that equipped Sectra with the knowledge to support the rapid requirement at the Nightingale hospital. 

Nightingale shining the light for other hospitals 

Since the new workflow has been adopted at NHS Nightingale Hospital London, Barts Health is now looking to adopt the process into other hospitals to support point of care testing, where the majority of clinicians capturing imaging will be unfamiliar with the RIS. 

Barts Health is by no means the only trust to be doing this. One notable example is University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. 

Emma Jackson, the Trust’s lead for digital imaging, explained that although the RIS is still essential for radiology, the potential of a RISless workflow now presents an opportunity to overcome pervasive challenges in bringing imaging from different diagnostic disciplines away from departmental silos and into the imaging record in the PACS. 

“We have been looking for a way to get other ologies onto the PACS,” she said. “Other ologies don’t use the RIS – they use the electronic patient record as their main workflow tool. To introduce an extra system, purely to get the images onto PACS, was just going to be a nightmare.

“We have been able to create a whole new workflow that bypasses the RIS. Any information goes straight from the EPR to the Sectra PACS.”

The potential demonstrated by the RISless process highlighted by the Nightingale approach is highly significant, said Emma: “We saw it had worked, and we decided we wanted to do the same. This has opened up a whole new world for us. It was going to be quite complicated beforehand. But this has made bringing more ologies into the PACS into a simple process.” 

Nurses capturing wound images on smartphones

Staff at Morecambe Bay are already starting to put this into practice. “Our tissue viability nurses are using the Sectra Uniview app to take photography using a RISless workflow,” explained Emma.

“They would generate a request on the EPR, it then goes to the Sectra Connectivity Hub, which generates a folder for them to store the images.” 

Initially a pilot project, three nurses are using tablets and mobile phones on the wards and uploading those images direct to the server from those devices. 

“From a clinician point of view those images are all visible through the EPR,” said Emma. “The work Sectra has done with me to sort this out is brilliant – it fully automates everything and makes this really easy for the end users.”

Emma wants to enable all nursing staff on the ward to start taking imaging as required with as little disruption for patients as possible. “If a nurse is on the ward changing a dressing they can take an image as they are doing it. This means that staff on a ward round can view the images without the need to take off a fresh dressing.”

The development offers significant potential to alleviate pressure on medical photography teams, adds Emma, and to allow them to focus time on more complex and specialist work.

Demand is now spreading across the hospital to take advantage of this new way of working – with departments including A&E seeing the potential to capture images of wounds as patients arrive, so staff can more easily see if the patient is progressing or deteriorating. 

Emma also sees potential for the new process to support work in the community. “If we can make the system work securely outside of the trust we can work with community staff for photography – and help to provide dermatology or wound care advice from consultants in the hospital to care homes, for example.” 

Opening the flood gates

For Emma, the new way of working is accelerating progress in creating a richer imaging record, with conversations already underway with colposcopy, hysteroscopy, ophthalmology, cardiology, and beyond the hospital with general practice. 

In the case of the latter example, work is starting to “break down those barriers”, says Emma, with the potential for patients themselves to provide images to GPs that can be fed to the hospital PACS for specialist opinion. “We want to get expertise to patients that need it wherever they may be,” she said. 

“At the moment a lot of patients don’t want to come into hospital. Dermatologists can potentially look at the image, diagnose and issue a prescription. For some cases this will be the only interaction the dermatologist needs.”

The possibilities, she said, are now very real. “This RISless workflow is a game changer, it makes it so much easier and it has opened the flood gates.”

*This article includes comments from an interview with Brian Turner, formerly of Barts Health NHS Trust, who since sadly passed away in late 2020.  

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