Toby Wheeler and Dr Mike Bedford Screenshot
Softward Developer Toby Wheeler and Dr Mike Bedford, Renal Consultant

Trust's innovative use of social media technology to improve patient care

For most of us, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow us to post messages about what we are up to and to keep in touch with friends.

But the renal team at East Kent Hospitals saw this as an opportunity - one that could help medical professionals and improve patient care.

Dr Bedford, a renal consultant at East Kent Hospitals, had just published research as part of his PhD into acute kidney injury, which showed a high death rate for patients with this condition. It was also known that there were delays in doctors recognising the condition across the UK.

So he worked with fellow consultant Professor Chris Farmer and software developer Toby Wheeler, who works in the renal team, to find a solution.

They then met two doctors (Jonathon Shaw and Jonathan Bloor) at the firm CareFlow Connect (now part of System C), which specialises in using social media methods to improve health care communication, and a development partnership began.

Together they set about developing a computer system that could try and make a difference.

Dr Bedford said: “The NHS was using old fashioned paper-based ways of communicating, or relying on doctors to frequently check electronic systems to see if results were available, which slowed down the process and led to treatment delays.

“I looked at social media and thought the way people used this to interact with each other could be played out for staff at my NHS Trust.

“I wanted to allow clinicians to be provided with real-time information and alerts to their mobile devices about their patients, as well as inform and enhance medical discussions about their treatment. I wanted to socialise their treatment and turn it into a real-time discussion.”

Six years ago the CareFlow platform was put in place at East Kent for renal kidney specialists to share referrals and findings on patients and alert on acute kidney injury as soon as results were available.

Dr Bedford said: “Acute kidney injury is easily diagnosed by comparing a patient’s kidney blood test result to previous results and there is now a national algorithm from NHS England which can be used to program a computer to define if a patient has acute kidney injury from blood results.”

“The new CareFlow software system used this algorithm to alert clinicians at the point of care to the presence of acute kidney injury. It also allowed medics to be part of an ongoing live discussion about their care and to refer patients to other clinical teams directly from the app, reducing treatment delays.

“We wanted to speed up a system more traditionally reliant on using emails, written forms, pagers, faxes and other paper-based methods.

“This is important as it is essential that acute kidney injury is diagnosed and treated quickly.”

National studies show around 100,000 deaths a year in secondary care – which includes hospital and community care – are associated with acute kidney injury.

Between one quarter and a third of these have the potential to be prevented.

CareFlow uses a cloud-based secure system (hosted on Microsoft Azure) that can be accessed online or via a smartphone app.

And it has been such a success it is now used by medical professionals across numerous disciplines – not just renal specialists - across East Kent Hospitals as well as around 20 other NHS trusts in England and Wales.

At East Kent alone, it is used to refer over 2,000 patients a month across departments, speeding up their care.

Dr Bedford said: “As the system allows for all healthcare professionals dealing with a patient’s care to be involved in a real-time conversation about their treatment it means people are alerted quickly if there are any issues. It used to be about acute kidney injury, but as it is used across so many departments it is now much more than that. It is at the core of our clinical communication.”

Dr Bedford added that the Trust’s nurses who work in the community also find it essential as it means they can access details and talk to specialist consultants while with patients.

He said: “CareFlow is a great example of how IT is now playing such a big part in the future of patient care at the NHS.”

“It is fair to say that we have been slower to take up technological advances than other sectors.”

“But NHS England and the Department of Health are really getting behind trusts who are using new or existing technology to improve treatment for patients.”

“The NHS is a great employer and its staff do so much good for people. Now is a great time for those with IT skills to get involved and to help make a real difference.”

Toby Wheeler, a software developer at East Kent Hospitals, added: "It is really great to work with clinicians so closely to develop the kind of computer systems they really need. I get a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that my daily work is really improving the way patients are cared for across the trust."

"It is really great to work with clinicians so closely to develop the kind of computer systems they really need. I get a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that my daily work is really improving the way patients are cared for across the trust."

Toby Wheeler, Software Developer for East Kent Hospitals