A hotbed of health: IT innovation at Keele University

Augmented reality using The Keele Augmented Reality Environment (KARE).

Universities are going faster and further in realising Simon Stevens’ vision of the NHS being a ‘hotbed of innovation’, as BJ-HC found out on a visit to the School of Pharmacy at Keele University.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has urged the NHS to go faster and further in building on its reputation as a ‘hotbed of innovation’.

However it takes a special set of circumstances for this to happen, and the School of Pharmacy at Keele University is showing how it can be done. Its health technology innovations are transforming clinical education and, ultimately, patient care.

BJ-HC found out more about two of its most compelling products, its augmented reality (AR) clinical simulator, and its avatar-based pharmacist training.

Augmented reality enables better patient care

The Keele Augmented Reality Environment (KARE) allows students to practice patient diagnostic and communication skills on virtual patient avatars that respond realistically to the drugs prescribed.

In-house developers worked with clinicians to create a mobile app linked to a QR-style card. When scanned, students get to see a 3D pop-up patient to support clinical simulation and communication skills training.

“We wanted to use real-world devices with a domestic use so that we could scale quickly,” said Luke Bracegirdle, Head of Digital and Business Analytics at the School. “We had already developed an on-site simulator, but this was limited to one student at a time. KARE can be used on any mobile device, by all our students.”

Students have been so impressed that they have invited peers from the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association to show how they are using augmented reality.  Some even have cards printed on t-shirts, to scan on their phones and see a patient jump out at them.

Fostering the right factors for innovation

Such innovation is fostered by the special environment Keele has created. Developers work on campus with clinicians and students to understand real-life healthcare problems. They then apply the best technology to solve those problems.

They work as part of non-hierarchical, interprofessional project teams and all contribute to the final product. Internal experts inform how the technology meets appropriate clinical standards, and PhD students and researchers are on hand to evaluate the clinical evidence base.

This means that Keele School of Pharmacy has a fertile environment for innovation. It can ensure that it is creating solutions that meet the needs of end users, and can provide the evidence and accreditation that show how its innovations work in practice.

Avatar-based pharmacist training sees better test scores

The School also has impressive connections across health and pharma. These have helped inform its work with pharma giant Bayer on Virtual Patient. This avatar-based interactive training enables community pharmacists to simulate how they would advise a newly-diagnosed atrial fibrillation patient.

Students are given options on how they would interact with a patient who comes into a pharmacy with a newly-prescribed oral anticoagulant. The wrong answers lead to a stern rebuke from the patient. Users can take the test until they get the perfect score, long before they need to do so in real-life.

This innovation is seeing students helps improve patient communication. It is also helping pharma slash the cost and increase the availability of training, removing the need for staff to attend a physical session, using these technologies as part of distance learning for continued professional development.

An unofficial academic digital exemplar

These are just two highlights of the work happening at the School of Pharmacy at Keele. Its ‘PharmaCard’ app allows students to use AR as a revision guide to explore drugs at a molecular level, by scanning playing cards that present 3D models of a drug. In earlier work, visualising drugs as 3D models led to students achieving 9% higher test results during assessment.

It has also launched a Manage Your Health app for asthma patients, showing how its approach to digital health has created the right set of circumstances to enable it to deliver innovations with impact. 

KARE, for example, can be used for more than just pharmacy training. “We are looking at how we can adapt it to model heart failure, for use by patients, students and others,” said Bracegirdle. “We could represent any type of clinical condition with a simple card.”

When looking to fulfil the promise that the NHS is a hotbed of innovation, global digital exemplars might get the attention. But Keele’s School of Pharmacy is an unofficial academic digital exemplar that is delivering on this vision.

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