Modern Authentication: Scott Clements, VASCO’s President and Chief Operating Officer, explains how the NHS can achieve the Balance between Security and Ease

Scott Clements

Scott Clements

Under the watchful eyes of regulators and, more alarmingly, cybercriminals, healthcare providers attempt to make their databases more accessible for access and sharing. One of the first elements that needs to be taken into account is authentication. Effective authentication is not only the first line of defence against efforts to limit unauthorised access, it can also be a cushion that softens the fall after a breach has occurred.

Logic would rule that healthcare providers would prioritise sharing medical information with patients and between themselves in order to expedite treatment. This would also facilitate the need General Practitioners have to access patient files wherever they are. Things are not that simple however. Medical data is among the most regulated out there, and for good reason. In the wrong hands, records can be misused to acquire equipment and medicine at the expense of patients, who risk suffering full fallout of identity theft.

Platform and location agnostic

This makes security a top priority for providers, who would rather err on the side of caution. As a consequence easy access to data, even by those who are fully entitled to it, is not a given. The need for that access, however, is very present. Like other professionals, doctors are more mobile than they were in the past. It is expected from them to perform the same duties while at the same time being unrestrained by their location, whether it is at their General Practitioner Centre, their own homes or while on house calls. And since GP practices have different IT environments when it comes to platforms, size and support, it is important that any solution for centralised data stores is platform independent and does not require additional installs.

Single Factor Authentication Won’t Cut It

One very important element of such a solution is the identification and authentication process. A simple username and password or PIN will not suffice, as prominent data beaches in recent years has made painfully clear.

But it has been known for longer that single-factor authentication simply is not secure enough. Not only does it allow for full access by simply knowing a passphrase or PIN, the case is also that most users are not used to define strong passwords, making it easier to deduce by others.

Healthcare providers are therefore increasingly using solutions that require periodic identity verification. Two-factor authentication, where an additional code is sent to a token after submitting a password or PIN number, goes a long way as physical access to a certain device is needed. It also meets the requirement of healthcare providers to be mobile, as they can still access the database from any location, as long as they bring their token with them. Such security renders the simple theft of ID and passwords or PIN numbers useless for criminals, who are usually located in another country and have no means to steal a specific token as well.

Strict but Easy to Use

Looking overseas for examples, one such solution is offered by specialist Dutch IT service provider Promedico ICT Ltd. It uses a multi-factor identification and authorisation system by VASCO and included it in it Promedico ASP solution. “Our security policy regarding Promedico ASP is very strict,” says Robert Verhagen, Operations Manager at Promedico. “It consists out of three steps: authentication, non-repudiation and confidentiality. In order to comply with all three steps, Promedico has built a close administrative procedure.”

In order to register, GPs need to present a valid medical ID to receive a DIGIPASS 260 authentication device. In order to access the central database, the doctor needs to enter a PIN into the DIGIPASS authentication device, after which a code is shown. During the session, the ID process is verified constantly, while the connection is encrypted to thwart any eavesdroppers. The result is that the security has multiple layers: username and password for the application, physically owning the right DIGIPASS device, and knowing the PIN for the DIGIPASS. That way, Promedico has achieved to cater to all demands of their customers: easy and quick but airtight access to the medical database, independent of the GP’s location. The healthcare providers are also fully compliant with the strict rules and regulations set by national governments.

Six Healthcare Applications that Need Authentication

The need for strong authentication reaches much further than the exchange of information between GPs and other providers though. The Information Security Media Group and VASCO have identified six areas in healthcare IT for which strong authentication practices are vital. Applications for Electronic Health Records (EHR), the category in which the Promedico example falls, is just one of those. A second category is applications for e-prescriptions, which are used to administer and track prescriptions in a paperless environment. Relatively simple employee portal applications also need strong authentication as they can give indirect access to medical files as well. The fourth type are patient portal applications, which serve as a way to communicate with patients and offer them a way to access their own files. It is, of course, of utmost importance that this access is restricted to just their own files.

The fifth type of application that needs strong authentication are medical mobile apps, of which more and more are appearing at hospitals and GP Centres. And finally, there is the network infrastructure of hospitals themselves.

When asked off the bat, professionals will always acknowledge the need for strong authentication. This realisation is even stronger among medical professionals, who need to comply with strict regulations. However, because of the perception that strong authentication applications place a burden on usability and cause a general hassle, even healthcare professionals will either access and share data in an unsecure way, or not access and share it at all. It is less known that modern applications offer a balance between both needs, ensuring that doctors can get on with their work while patients get prompt treatment without facing bureaucratic speed bumps.

UK’S HEALTH HEROES REVEALED

UK’S HEALTH HEROES

UK’S HEALTH HEROES

NATIONAL HEALTH AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED AT INAUGURAL CEREMONY IN LONDON

An ambulance worker from Berwick and a day centre receptionist from Belfast are the first ever winners of the Our Health Heroes awards, set up to celebrate the work of the thousands of support staff who keep the NHS running behind the scenes.

Iain Scott and Elizabeth Cameron received their awards today (Tuesday) at a special ceremony hosted by Skills for Health, the National Skills Academy for Health and UNISON.

Iain Scott from Berwick Ambulance Station won the national award for Clinical Support Worker of the Year, and Elizabeth Cameron from Fortwilliam Day Centre took home the top honour in the Operational Services Support Worker of the Year category.

The Our Health Heroes awards are the culmination of a campaign by the three organisations to celebrate the contribution made by the 800,000 individuals who make up the healthcare support workforce across the UK. From hospital porters to emergency care assistants, cleaners, caterers and administrative staff, their role in patient care is crucial, but often goes unnoticed.

More than 500 nominations were whittled down to a total of 24 regional winners, two from each of UNISON’s 12 regions. A public vote then decided the national winners.

A special honorary award was also presented in memory of Grant Callachan, a physiotherapy support worker at Arbroath Infirmary in Scotland, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Grant’s colleagues submitted a moving nomination highlighting the special difference he had made to his team, and how his example continues to inspire them. The award judges unanimously decided that his compassion and enthusiasm role should be recognised, and his honorary award was accepted by his wife, Michelle.

Iain Scott was nominated by his colleagues for always putting them and his patients first. From administration to stock control and the station social fund, Iain spends all his spare time on station doing as much as he can for colleagues.

Iain also goes the extra mile for patients, calling in to see them in his spare time, helping with their shopping if they are housebound, and checking on their pets. He makes sure the most vulnerable patients are comfortable and at ease, encouraging those who are reluctant to travel to hospital, and bringing in heaters to make sure vehicles are warm in the winter.

Iain said: “I’m honoured to have won the national award, I never thought it was going to be me. I’m really pleased to have won but I think everyone here today would have deserved it just as much as me; so my heart goes out to each and every one of them as well.”

Elizabeth Cameron has been the welcoming face of the Fortwilliam Day Centre since it opened 30 years ago and constantly goes over and above what is expected of her daily role. She is hardworking, motivated and reliable, but it is her compassion and positivity, even during challenging times, that have really set her apart.

Elizabeth builds strong relationships with the people with learning disabilities who use the centre, many of whom view her as a member of their extended family. She can often be found reading storybooks and chatting with them during her lunch breaks, and when they are having a bad day, she talks through their problems with them. She regularly organises a host of events, including the annual Christmas dinner, which many view as the highlight of their year.

Elizabeth said: “I’m so shocked that I’ve won. When I was told I’d even been nominated I thought it was a joke and that there must be someone out there that deserves it more than me. It’s an honour and I do really love my job; I wouldn’t have been doing it for so long if I didn’t!”

John Rogers, chief executive, Skills for Health, said: “The dedicated individuals in our healthcare support workforce truly are the sector’s unsung heroes. They keep the NHS running from behind the scenes, and their hard work and commitment is integral to making sure patients receive the very best care possible. We are very proud at Skills for Health to be a leading voice in celebrating their contribution and value to the sector.

“We would like to extend our huge congratulations to Iain and Elizabeth, and to each of our 24 regional winners. All of them should be extremely proud of their achievements, and we hope to see this spirit of celebration continue across the sector.”

Candace Miller, director, National Skills Academy for Health, said: “The National Skills Academy for Health is dedicated to ensuring healthcare support staff can access the training they need to be effective at the job they love. We were overwhelmed by the fantastic response to this campaign that we created to give the invaluable individuals in our healthcare support workforce the recognition they deserve.

“Iain and Elizabeth are both truly deserving of winning the Our Health Heroes Award 2016, and hearing of their compassion and commitment to their colleagues and patients is truly inspiring.”

Christina McAnea, UNISON head of health, said: “Without support staff like porters, cleaners and administrative staff, the NHS would very quickly grind to a halt. Despite the huge squeeze in resources, this dedicated band of employees works tirelessly, under often incredible pressures, making sure equipment and people are in the right places, that wards are clean, and patients’ medical records are kept up to date.

“But while the public, quite rightly, often sings the praises of the nurses, midwives and doctors in the NHS, the many support staff, whose work is largely invisible, tend to be ignored. That’s why these awards are so important.”

As well as the national awards, Iain and Elizabeth have each also won training packages worth up to £2,500 for their organisation, provided by Skills for Health and the Skills Platform, along with a £250 voucher to use towards a mini-break holiday, generously donated by SpaBreaks.com.

How Vaping Can Help You Stop Smoking And Live a Healthier Life

There is no doubt about it – smoking cigarettes is detrimental to your health. But quitting smoking altogether is a hard feat to accomplish, and one that usually isn’t achieved overnight. Many find themselves fervently convinced by their own desire to quit smoking, only to give up their quest the next day.

Luckily for smokers across the globe, alternatives to cigarettes have never been this effective. Spurred on by damning statistics1 such as cigarettes claiming 80,000 lives a year within England alone, a sizable demand has broken off from the ranks of the tobacco adherents. Trusting rather in what can be considered the ‘second generation of smoking devices’, classic cigars and cigarettes could, at last, be entering their twilight.

According to Government sanctioned research2, e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than their traditional predecessors. How this is achieved, is by heating an e-liquid (propylene glycol) to create a harmless vapour that is thus inhaled. In comparison, regular cigarettes host a number of toxic chemicals such as acetone, ammonia, lead and styrene, a well-known carcinogen. E-cigarettes, in contrast, only make use of propylene glycol, which is known for being used in asthma inhalers and secondly vegetable glycerol, trusted in the production of food and cosmetics.

Furthermore, e-cigarettes do not produce the same toxic, foul-smelling smoke that cigarettes do, while also not being positively infused with nicotine. The e-cigarette vapour does not embed itself into furniture and does not assail the senses of non-smokers nearby, for which cigarettes are infamous for doing so. Rather, it has been proved3 that there is no noticeable health threat to those nearby, and smokers need no longer be ostracised as social pariahs by those who do not partake.

Physical Impact

For as long as smoking has been around, there has been the ongoing debate of whether cigarettes actually taste nice. Whilst such a judgement remains subjective to the individual, what is for sure is the effects4 on the senses. Cigarettes are known to dull your senses, and many smokers complain of their smell and taste being dampened. Therefore do the cigarettes really taste bad or is simply their impact on the body that you feel?

Aside from the flavour, smoking also affects vascularisation, as cigarettes increase your blood pressure and dehydrate you. This, in turn, will negatively impact your blood vessels. Subsequently, it has been proven5 that nearly every organ in the body suffers as these vessels find it more and more difficult to get where they need to be. Thankfully, such damage can be reversed over time, if preventative measures are taken.

Returning to taste, though, e-cigarettes come with a very wide variety of e-liquids, ranging from surprising flavours such as yoghurt to homey ones like pastry. While cigarettes all too often taste like acid-coated wood, e-cigarettes can taste like whatever you wish. For those who miss the taste of tobacco, though, fear not – there’s countless tobacco flavours out there for your taste bud’s pleasure.

Nicotine

At the heart of the success of big tobacco firms, nicotine stands as one of the most lethal chemicals on the planet. Prized for its demonstrable ability6 to alter chemicals in the brain, dropping nicotine ‘cold turkey’ is far from easy.

In contrast with e-cigarettes, you can choose exactly how much nicotine you want to vape and can lessen your intake over time.

Habit

A huge amount of smokers have found themselves entrapped by nicotine addiction from a simple, casual, social puff of a cigarette. People not only smoke because of addiction but also to pass the time or to engage in the social aspect of collectively smoking with your friends.

Many smokers are used to smoking a cigarette right as they wake up, or after a good meal; during times of stress or with a cup of coffee. Being a smoker is not just being physically addicted to nicotine, but also being psychologically addicted. Smoking cigarettes becomes a habit, and everyone knows habits are hard to kick.

Overall, the main factor that spurs on vapers, is that by transitioning to e-cigs, they are taking back control over the nicotine itself. Now, users have an unprecedented influence over what they put into their body, all whilst satisfying their mental cravings for an intake. Socially, smokers can now quite literally come in from the cold, as never before has smoking been this socially acceptable amongst non-participants. With all the existing benefits of cigarettes minus the vast majority of negatives, it looks like vaping is the breeze on which orthodox smoking is set to drift away.

 

Disability charity Revitalise in vanguard of campaign against pressure injury

Charity launches ‘Keep Moving’ initiative at its respite centres to mark Pressure Ulcer Awareness Day
 
The national disabled people’s charity Revitalise has thrown its weight behind the campaign to eradicate pressure injury with a raft of initiatives for the disabled guests at its three accessible UK holiday centres.
 
Revitalise – which provides respite breaks for disabled people and carers – has come up with ‘Keep Moving’, a five-minute, wheelchair-based exercise routine to increase awareness and minimise the risk of pressure injury among the wheelchair users who come to the charity for breaks.
 
‘Keep Moving’ is part of an ongoing quality assurance drive within Revitalise and has been endorsed by leading professionals in the tissue viability field, namely Sylvie Hampton, Keith Cutting and Sarah Gray.
 
As well as ‘Keep Moving’, Revitalise has launched a number of other measures designed to minimise the risk of pressure injury among its guests. These include developing links with local tissue viability teams to provide training for nursing and care staff, appointing a new team of tissue viability nurse champions at each centre and procuring Talley Group ‘Fusion’ hybrid mattresses to provide flexible pressure area care for the centres’ beds.
 
The raft of measures introduced by Revitalise is part of the charity’s ongoing commitment to best practice in care delivery across its centres. In regard to tissue viability care, the charity has embraced the SSKIN five step model* for pressure injury prevention which has been widely adopted across the NHS.
 
Tina Chambers, Trustee of the Tissue Viability Society, is to visit Netley Waterside House, Revitalise’s South Coast centre near Southampton, in order to show her support for the initiative on Pressure Ulcer Awareness Day, 17 Nov.
 
Revitalise’s Director of Care and Quality, Sarah Mancini, commented:
The key reason we came up with ‘Keep Moving’ was to empower our guests to be aware of the importance of skin integrity and regular repositioning through fun, inclusive activities.
 
We pride ourselves on focussing on what our guests can do, not what they can’t, and already run regular activities designed to keep our guests fit and active, such as Zumba and fitness classes and Boccia tournaments. ‘Keep Moving’ has now been added to this list.  
 
“The raft of initiatives we have introduced and our adoption of the SSKIN five step model in our operating procedures is intended to embed pressure ulcer prevention as a mark of quality care in our service.
 
Pressure ulcers cause long term pain and distress to those affected and can mean longer stays in hospital. Treating pressure ulcers costs the NHS more than £3.8 million every day, yet it has been estimated that 95% of pressure ulcers are preventable.
 
Revitalise is a national charity providing respite holidays for disabled people and carers. Revitalise provides short breaks, with 24-hour nurse-led care on-call and personal support, at three accessible UK centres. Each centre offers a wide range of accessible activities and excursions in a holiday environment.
 
ENDS

 

Is there a link between social media and cosmetic surgery?

Social media has changed the way we communicate, and made it easier than ever before to share with people close to us, or on the other side of the world. As visual-based social networks have taken over, we’re spending more and more time staring at pictures of perfect homes, perfect meals, perfect holidays and perfect faces. The popularity of image editing apps such as Face Tune and that one Snapchat filter everyone loves reveals that many people who use the platforms are more than a little bit concerned about how they appear online.

What is worrying is that our online insecurities are spilling over into surgical intervention. According to the BAAPS (The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons), a growing number of patients are going under the knife in order to appear a certain way on their friend’s timelines. It isn’t difficult to see why young people feel the pressure to enhance their looks with cosmetic procedures when the likes of the Kardashians and other starlets make complex procedures look as minimal as an eyebrow shape.

When young people see the transformation Kylie Jenner underwent between her younger teenage years and today, you can see why young people feel under pressure to look a certain way. A young impressionable girl with thin lips might assume that lip fillers are essential to achieve the perfect pout – after all, there are pictures of Kylie Jenner purporting the same thing all over Instagram.

A recent study in TIME magazine revealed that scrolling through our social media feeds leads to feelings of inadequacy, envy and loneliness. Whereas perfect people may have once only been visible on TV and in magazines, we are now inundated with images of perfect people on every screen.

It isn’t only young people who feel the pressure to look a certain way thanks to advances in technology. When video calling took off in 2012, cosmetic surgeons reported an increase in demand for chin surgery as a result of the unflattering angle cast by many video calling programmes. One surgeon even adjust his approach to the traditional facelift – dubbing it the Facetime Facelift – to ensure the scars weren’t visible when video calling.

While improving your looks to appear a certain way on social media isn’t the crime of the century, what is worrying is that cowboy cosmetic surgeons have now been given access to a market of patients willing to hand over insubordinate amounts of cash in order to achieve the perfect look.


Research has shown that breast surgery claims are on the rise, and not only because of factors such as the PIP scandal. Social media is not only inspiring us to go under the knife, but it is also leading us to have unrealistic expectations of the results, which in turn leads to cosmetic surgery claims. Social media may bring us together, but there is a darker side to this phenomenon that can make us feel isolated and seriously damage our self-esteem.

 

Food ‘traffic light’ labelling should be mandatory, councils say

Food manufacturers should be forced to put “traffic light” nutrition labels on the front of packs, councils have said.

The voluntary scheme, introduced by the Department of Health in 2013, sees foods highlighted as red, amber or green according to how much salt, sugar and fat they contain.

But the labels do not appear on about a third of the food sold in the UK.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said current rules were confusing and a universal labelling system was needed.

It said with obesity levels rising, clearer packaging would help people take more responsibility for their health.

Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said many retailers and manufacturers had different methods of displaying nutritional content.
‘Easy to understand’

“Consumers need a single, standard and consistent system which should be universally adopted. It needs to be something that they can read and understand quickly and easily,” she said.

“The UK is leading the way with its traffic light scheme, which is already widely used, and provides clear, at-a-glance information. It is something many shoppers are familiar with and find helpful.

“But we want the government to go one step further and make it mandatory for all retailers and manufacturers to adopt.”

Under its recently announced childhood obesity plan, the government said it would look again at how nutritional information was displayed.

The plan was attacked as “weak” by health experts, campaigners and MPs who said the government had “rowed back” on earlier promises.

Full article here on BBC.

Computer system health or auditing - Stethoscope over a computer keyboard toned in blue

Frederik Mennes, who heads up VASCO’s Security Competence Center, considers the impact of data breaches within the Healthcare Industry

The integration of technology within the healthcare sector continues to create seismic changes in how individuals receive medical care. Yet in their rush to adopt technology designed to improve the consumer’s experience, organisations within the healthcare industry face the very real threat of sensitive patient data ending up in the hands of cybercriminals.

When it comes to the value of stolen data within the criminal underground, the more personal the better – and it does not come any more personal than protected health information (PHI) included in medical records. In the hands of criminals, PHI facilitates all types of crimes including prescription fraud, identity theft and the provision of medical care to a third party in the victim’s name.

Despite its compromised state, there is more value attached to healthcare-related data than other types of personally identifiable information. A stolen credit card, for example, has a finite life because once the customer discovers fraud they cancel the card. PHI, on the other hand, contains government-issued identity numbers such as national insurance numbers, as well as medical and prescription-related data that are permanent.

How much does the public know about breaches?

While the tracking and reporting of healthcare breaches varies by country, the United States Office of Civil Rights (OCR), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, publishes a wall of shame.” Pursuant to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, the wall details breaches of unsecured health information affecting 500 or more individuals. According to the OCR report, in 2015 alone, 268 breaches accounted for the loss of over 113 million records. While some of the breaches reported involved unauthorised access or exposure, the OCR reported the breach of 111 million of those records as a hacking or IT incident.

The long-term impact of medical-related data breaches

In a 2015 survey, the Ponemon Institute reported several important findings related to this issue, including:

  • Medical identity theft generates significant costs. 65% of medical identity theft victims included in the study paid an average of $13,500 to resolve the crime (Payments made to healthcare providers, identity service providers or legal counsel).

  • Healthcare providers rarely notify the victim. On average, victims learn about the theft of their data more than three months following the crime. 30% do not know when they became a victim.

  • Consumers expect healthcare providers to adopt a proactive approach to preventing and detecting medical identity theft. 79% of survey participants state that is important for healthcare providers to ensure the privacy of their records. If their medical records were lost or stolen, 48% say they would consider changing healthcare providers.

Estimates regarding the cost to remediate a healthcare breach, which includes the investigation of the breach; the implementation of measures to prevent future breaches; notification of victims; and provision of identity-theft protection and repair services vary widely. The associated regulatory fines and penalties are, on average, between $200 and $400 per record.

Security cannot remain an afterthought. Breaches negatively impact the patient and the broader healthcare ecosystem. While large-scale breaches occur mostly in United States, where increased regulatory oversight drives transparency, the EU, as evidenced by the progression of the General Data Protection Act, continues to take steps to increase the level of transparency regarding breaches.

Criminals count on gaps within an organisation’s authentication security framework. Further regulators with responsibilities related to data privacy and security, driven in large part by elected officials and patients affected by breaches, will continue to set standards that create the need for enhanced security. To find out more about how to secure data access within the Healthcare industry, download the free VASCO whitepaper.

THD procedure: an effective and non-invasive treatment for hemorrhoids

Medico Paziente

Medico Paziente

According to the eminent Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, the problem of hemorrhoids is more widespread in industrial countries than one might expect: it is estimated that around 50% of the population above the age of fifty suffers or suffered in the past from them. This means that one out of two people, at some point in his life, may experience this type of health problems.

The first step consists in getting at the root causes which affect the appearance of hemorrhoids and in particular the constipation through a correct and balanced diet. Sometimes these measures are not enough to treat hemorrhoids in advanced stage. Especially when the patient is suffering from prolapse of hemorrhoid tissue (hemorrhoids grade III-IV) the best way to resolve this problem is surgery and, in this regard, one of the most promising procedure is the THD Doppler based on the dearterialization of hemorrhoids .

Using advanced technology, surgeons can identify the blood vessels that supply blood to the hemorrhoids, and tie them in a sparsely innervated area (which generates minimal pain) reducing any prolapsed tissue by means of a sort of “lifting” which repositions the cushions in their original anatomical position.
The advantages are numerous: the Doppler THD procedure is in fact able to guarantee a high quality of life, avoiding subsequent relapses. Another crucial element is the minimal invasiveness of this kind of procedure, which can also be operated in day surgery; the resignation occurs within 24-36 hours and convalescence is rather short since the operation does not involve the removal of any tissue. This means that the patient is advised a few days rest before resuming his normal daily activities.

Another strong point of this method is its wide range of applicability: in fact there are no particular contraindications, it can also be performed in patients at an advanced age or suffering from debilitating diseases.
The THD surgical approach, thanks to its many benefits in both the short and the long term, therefore, is today one of the most effective solutions and decisive for the definitive treatment of hemorrhoid problems.

Have you ever tried talking to your EPR?

dicgital healthcare

digital healthcare

The Nuffield Trust has published a new report called Delivering the benefits of digital health care. It is a well-written, timely piece of research which sets out how we can transform healthcare systems using digital technology. It succinctly identifies the conundrum we currently face: that although healthcare delivery is being transformed by new technology, strategic decisions about clinical transformation and the investment needed in information and digital technology are often relegated to the end of NHS board discussions.

Culture change is critical for deploying digital technology in healthcare.

The report includes seven lessons for success. The one that jumped out at me is that culture change is critical. This is something we are very familiar with at Nuance because we work hard with clinical staff at the frontline to ensure speech recognition software becomes embedded in their everyday tasks.

The role of speech recognition in healthcare

Speech recognition is mentioned briefly in the report in the description of Nuffield’s own vision of how healthcare is likely to change in the next 10 years. It suggests that ‘…though there is interest in new models of care, the most significant improvements in productivity over the next few years are likely to come from the combined impact of large numbers of small changes and extracting the full benefit from the technologies currently available…A lot less time will be spent by staff on administrative tasks and routine communication, as automation, voice recognition and natural language processing become more commonplace.’  

Speech recognition is a mature technology that has now taken the consumer market by storm. If you don’t use speech recognition software to command your phone, your car, even your TV, you probably know someone who does. Within healthcare, speech recognition will help drive significant improvements in productivity from the huge investments already made, but not yet fully realised, in the EPRs as well as improving the day to day lives of the staff by freeing them from the keyboard.

Speech recognition changes how healthcare professionals work.
In healthcare speech recognition software understands clinical language. This is quite different from the software you might get on an iPad, or iPhone. Radiologists have been our Trojan Horse with hospitals throughout the land
using speech recognition as their standard method of reporting and managing patient and medical records. Take it away and they would more than likely bite your arm off.

Over the years, healthcare speech recognition software has improved in leaps and bounds, whether it be around the medical vocabulary, an individual’s phonetics or the mathematical probabilities of the language model. So too has the hardware upon which it runs.

How effective are speech recognition solutions?

Sadly there has been a lack of published research in this area. However, that does seem to be changing with recent studies providing good evidence. A German university hospital undertook a study that showed how a web-based medical speech recognition system for clinical documentation increased documentation speed by 26 per cent, increased the amount of content by 82 per cent, and also resulted in enhancing user satisfaction. In the UK, mental health has also taken to the stage:

  • South West London and St. George’s Mental Health National Health Service (NHS) Trust showed that time spent entering patient notes was reduced by almost 50 per cent when using speech recognition.

  • Surrey Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust observed the average turnaround for letters or reports dropped from 6-7 days to just 1-2 days.

The EPR (Electronic Patient Records) also adds a new dimension to the challenge for healthcare professionals. The Nuffield Trust report highlights that the EPR ‘straddles the system as a whole, reflecting the pivotal role it plays in any digital strategy’. It acts as a ‘foundation on which many of the other tools are built’.

However, clinical studies have shown that EPRs can add as much as 90 minutes to a medical professional’s day.

Clinical speech recognition – here to stay

Without good quality information in an EPR, the seven opportunities to drive improvements outlined in the Nuffield Trust’s report will not be realised. So this conundrum must be solved with smart technology.

Huge strides have been made in the quality, accuracy, performance, affordability and time-to-value of speech recognition solutions and their use in healthcare is on the rise. The benefits of improved clinical documentation using speech recognition are broad and varied – in essence better quality of care, improved patient safety and health professional satisfaction. The result is the ultimate goal – health professionals have more time to spend with their patients like we see it for example with the nursing team at at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital PICU. They are saving 40 minutes per patient per day using speech recognition versus typing, with an improved hand over and faster referral and discharge process to other units, and most importantly freeing up more time to care – as also published in the Nursing Times last year.

We are keen to demonstrate how speech recognition can help clinicians save time and record a greater amount of detail more accurately, so if you have any personal experiences you would like to share, please let me know. I look forward to getting your feedback.

Dr Simon Wallace, Medical Consultant, Nuance Communications UK

Health News – Chancellor Announces Tax on Sugary Soft Drinks

The Chancellor, George Osborne, recently announced that a long awaited (by some) Sugar Tax on sweetened sugary soft drinks will come into play by 2018.

On the sugar levy, Mr Osborne told MPs: “Doing the right thing for the next generation is what this government and this Budget is about.

“No matter how difficult and how controversial it is.”

“You cannot have a long-term plan for the country unless you have a long-term plan for our children’s health care.”

He added: “I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation, ‘I’m sorry, we knew there was a problem with sugary drinks and we knew it caused disease but we dumped the difficult decisions and did nothing’.

Osborne revealed that there will be two tax bands for drinks – one for moderately sweetened drinks, and a second, higher band for the sweetest drinks.

Drinks manufacturers will be taxed according to the volume of drinks they produce. (Independent, 2016)

The tax will come into force in two years’ time in order to give companies time to change the ingredients of their products.

Osborne also announced today that the estimated £520m raised from the sugar tax will go toward school sports.

This news will please many parents who are concerned about their children’s health and future, given the calorific content of these drinks and the way the marketing of them seems to be aimed at children.

One leading champion of the campaign to introduce a levy on fizzy pop was Jamie Oliver. He tweeted this afternoon:

“We did it guys!! We did it!!! A sugar levy on sugary sweetened drinks……A profound move…”

His media campaign has been one of the key drivers in bringing in this change.

However, there are those that were not so pleased to hear the sugar tax announcement today.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “We are extremely disappointed by the Government’s decision to hit the only category in the food and drink sector which has consistently reduced sugar intake in recent years – down 13.6% since 2012.” (Sky News, 2016)

Our view? If this tax means that our nation’s children are healthier in the years to come, then it can only be a good thing. But this levy can only be part of a wider shift in national consciousness towards healthier ways of living; this incudes diet, exercise and lifestyle in general.

We shall wait and see if David Cameron’s anticipated Obesity Strategy (due soon) covers many of the issues that need to be tackled, if we are to make a healthier nation for generations to come.