When you’re unwell it’s always reassuring to get a second opinion to be sure the suggested treatment offers the best chance of recovery. It would be better still to get more of the top medical minds in the country poring over your scans and test results.
That’s exactly what’s happening with N3. For example, the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is making extensive use of N3-based video conferencing to support multi-disciplinary teams in the Anglia Cancer Network.
Collective brainpower is helping deliver better clinical outcomes at less cost. Remote consultants are collaborating using HD video, with microscopically detailed images and hi-fi sound. And most such interactions are completely free of call charges. That’s how the best 21st century medical practice looks.
The Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is a major healthcare provider serving the residents of North Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire in the East of England. The Trust has two main sites – Stamford and Rutland Hospital and the newly built Peterborough City Hospital.
The Trust has excelled in its pioneering use of video conferencing to improve collaboration among clinicians. Video conferencing is used to network remote consultants working in multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs), such as the Anglia Cancer Network.
Andy Mills, IT Project Manager at Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explains: “We have been using ISDN services to set up the video connections, but the relative low bandwidth of ISDN was becoming a limiting factor for picture quality, and with usage increasing our costs were on the rise.” The Trust decided that it wanted to invest in HD technology, underpinned with higher bandwidth connectivity over an always-on network, which would reduce per occasion call charges and avoid costly installation of ISDN lines into the new build.
The N3 team was the Trust’s first port of call. With its national IP-based broadband network, N3 provides more than 40,000 NHS connections throughout England and Scotland. As the largest virtual private network in Europe, it supports digital applications such as Choose and Book, the Care Records Service, and the Picture Archiving and Communication System.
The N3 Managed Video Conferencing Service uses the N3 network to set up video communication events to other NHS N3 connected sites free of call charges. Guests can be invited onto a conference either “on-net” if an N3 connected site or by dialling in over ISDN if a non-N3 connected site. A future development will see Guests invited to join a conference call via an IP Guest Gateway.
The commercial terms are attractive too. With the N3 Managed Video Conferencing Service there is no capital expenditure for equipment, simply a one-off set up charge and a monthly rental charge for each end point. Andy Mills confirms: “Using the N3 network for video conferencing as well as conventional data transfer helps us leverage greater value from the asset and that presents a strong business case.”
Information collated by Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust indicates that its use of video conferencing has avoided £150,000 per year cash expenditure; money that would have been spent should staff have been required to travel instead. That’s all in addition to the estimated opportunity cost saving of around £800,000 from time that would be wasted by the clinicians during travel between geographically dispersed sites.
Using the N3 network for video conferencing has transformed the user experience. Participants now have a clearer view of attendees and of clinical data being presented, such as radiology images, to facilitate debate among MDT members. Although picture quality can still be limited by the capability of remote end-points, as more hospitals upgrade their equipment and connect to the N3 network the end-to-end quality will rise.
“The feedback from MDT participants has been very good and the better user experience is certainly driving higher usage,” reports Andy Mills. “There are currently around ten to fifteen MDT meetings held each week, including Cancer and Stroke.”
With N3, higher usage does not mean higher costs. Video connections to other NHS N3 connected sites are free of call charges; so increased usage really does deliver greater value. “We estimate that the Trust will save an additional £20,000 per year against our traditional ISDN charges,” says Andy Mills. “With more MDTs and longer meetings because of the better quality, patient care is being enhanced as well.”
Andy Mills sums up: “The Trust is now starting to use video conferencing for other functions such as long distance meetings with consultants, suppliers, and training events organised through our learning centre. We are also looking long term at the possibility of using video conferencing for remote consultations with patients at home. Reducing face-to-face sessions will save even more travel time and costs, along with associated CO2 emissions. That’s good news for our Trust, the NHS, and the planet.”
Unlike conventional video conferencing services, the N3 Managed Video Conferencing Service can cope with a mix of speeds, HD and standard-definition, IP and ISDN. This ensures that everybody gets the best possible visual and audio experience, rather than the lowest common denominator.
A wide range of video conferencing equipment is available. For Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, three Polycom HDX 9000 series HD in-room video conferencing systems were provided for MDT Video Conferencing. Seven Cisco C20 video codecs, with eight trolley mounted screen units for portability, were also included. These enable any meeting space with network connectivity to be instantly transformed into a powerful video communications hub.
Easy call set up
The service also includes N3 Meeting Manager, a web-based software application that provides flexibility and convenience for scheduling, launching, monitoring, and controlling video conferences from a desktop computer. N3 maintains an NHS-wide directory of video conferencing users to facilitate fast call set up.
N3 Meeting Manager makes it very easy for people to set up and schedule calls, with minimal training. The system automatically generates an email to advise each participant of the session details. Video calls can even be scheduled to connect automatically at the prescribed time. This means users of the N3 Managed Video Conferencing Service can just enter the room and get on with the conference, saving valuable time and leading to more productive meetings.
Stella Errico, an MDT co-ordinator at the Trust, adds: “The new equipment has positively changed the way we work. We now have the ability to control meetings remotely. N3 Meeting Manager is user friendly and simple to use and BT’s technical support is extremely good. Overall the new conferencing system has been a great success.”
Reducing face-to-face sessions will save even more travel time and costs, along with associated CO2 emissions. That’s good news for our Trust, the NHS, and the planet.”
Andy Mills - IT Project Manager, Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
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