Writer: Joanna Aloor
Editor: Karolay Lorenty
Art: MedTech Society UCL
MedTech UCL brings together students from interdisciplinary backgrounds interested in the application of technology in solving healthcare problems. The society has held a range of events, from coding workshops, to an ‘AI in Medicine’ conference that hosted speakers from Google Deepmind, Benevolent AI and NHS X. Recently, they invited Dr Lydia Yarlott, a junior doctor-turned-entrepreneur and co-founder of Pando, an emerging NHS communications app.
Rapid advancements in technology have been observed in almost all professional fields, including healthcare. This incorporates wearables used to monitor blood pressure or detect atrial fibrillation and AI models able to detect and treat sepsis. However, Dr Yarlott pinpointed that communications in the NHS remains slow in endorsing such technological growth – understandably so when considering the consequences of mishandled information.
Communication between healthcare professionals within hospitals still largely relies on the age-old pager system. A few-digit-message is transmitted from one pager to another and the receiver is required to call this number using a landline phone. Although it maintains the integrity of patient privacy, this system is outdated and flawed. Assuming an immediate response is unreliable which leaves the sender in a problematic position, likely in the midst of treating a patient. Similarly, receiving a page in the middle of a procedure can be disruptive and dangerous to another patient in care. As technology advances, the disadvantages of pagers begin to carry more weight. Pando tackles these shortcomings and provides modern-day solutions to communication on the hospital floor.
Pando provides essential platforms for healthcare professionals to communicate and respond to medical emergencies in a more efficient, yet secure manner. Messages are encrypted when both transmitted and received, and access to images is limited to the specific receiver and cannot be stored in the phone’s personal library or forwarded without the original sender’s authority.
The latest version of Pando includes a feature for group chats. This may not seem like a revolutionary feature, as most mainstream messaging platforms do this. However, the addition of group chats in Pando has impacted users and patients more than an average messaging platform could fathom. It has enabled messaging to a collective of specialists, available at any given time, receiving the expert opinion from multiple doctors immediately. Dr Yarlott, being a junior doctor herself, reassured how useful this feature can be, especially for doctors still in training.
The biggest challenge in the development of Pando, as is for most technological advances in medicine, is protecting patient information. Handling patient data safely and securely is something Pando, and all healthtech organisations, must put time and effort into prioritising. Additionally, Dr Yarlott signified the difficulty in developing an app that optimally works on both iOS and Android systems. In healthtech, you cannot afford to have app glitches due to incompatibility with specific operating systems. This problem was solved by developing two independent applications for Android and iOS systems, maximising latent capacities of the platform.
The current application is being used within individual hospitals, but as further expansion occurs, inter-hospital networking is a possibility. This could be particularly important for transplants, where instant messaging across hospitals could expedite the preparation process and delivery of organs. Further developments may even see global-expansion, joining healthcare professionals from around the globe. With NHS being a world-leading healthcare provider, connecting doctors from less-developed countries could help them receive more specialist advice in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. The future of healthcare communications apps is promising, as they create more efficient information broadcasting between doctors, leading to better care for patients.
Pando sets a great example of what can come of technological advances in medicine. Current trends in the healthtech industry are focused on elevating patient-control, turning the doctor-patient relationship into a partnership. The idea is to help patients understand what their diagnosis means for their health and how best to take care of themselves, thus urging better self-treatment outside of the hospital. Encouraging a data-driven healthcare system is another exciting and emerging area in healthtech, aiming to eliminate ambiguity in the prediction of patients’ health trends when in and out of hospital. The applications of AI in medicine are beginning to uncover novel insights for early diagnosis and prognosis, enforcing a more personalised healthcare system.