Innovation On The Frontline

eConsent is a software application that began life in the way many healthcare innovations do: on the frontline, in a hospital, as a response to an everyday problem.

Stephen Lake, a consultant general surgeon at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, was sitting in his out-patient clinic in early 2004, hand-writing in a frustrated manner on yet another paper-based consent form.

This consent form, on which clinicians write risk factors so fully-informed patients can then document their agreement to proceed with a surgical intervention, had changed in recent years. The problem was that these paper-bound forms had become much more complex and were increasingly open to errors. For example, handwriting might be unreadable or doctors might miss out a crucial bit of patient data; abbreviations may be used which patients might later worry they do not understand.

Stephen’s vision was of a structured digital version which would support his communication with each individual patient. His initial approach was through his Trust’s IT project team, with whom he built a database in Microsoft Access. He and his colleagues could use this to select and enter all the necessary fields carefully and clearly. The final form was then printed out and the patient signed it in the usual way.

“I didn’t know then that this idea might be considered worthy of a prize, but it did seem an extremely useful time-saving, and quality–improving, concept.”

Finding the Right Partner

With several years of success within the Trust behind the project (which became a Health Service Journal Award finalist in 2008), it became clear that the idea was ripe for further development and commercialisation. The team were ready to take this next step, but didn’t quite know how to go about it.

Enter MidTECH, whose wide network of clinical and commercial contacts meant that it was uniquely placed to find the right collaborator, eHealth Innovations, for Stephen and his team.

MidTECH’s experienced consultants were able to call on their contacts in order to understand which firms had the expertise, experience and interest in a product like eConsent that would be necessary to take it to the next stage. MidTECH were also on hand to advise both parties on the right agreements, from confidentiality agreements at the outset through to licence negotiations and contract drafting, to strike and the best shape for the partnership.

In less than a year, the contracts were signed. Matthew Smith, Accounts Manager for eHealth Innovations, believed this process was crucial to successfully taking eConsent to market.

“What emerged from the MidTECH introduction was a really productive partnership. Both Stephen and the Trust were really keen to get the product out there – and so were we.”

eHealth Innovations had the know-how to take a Microsoft Access database and turn it into something slicker and more intuitive to use. The package now runs off a hospital server and displays in an attractive user interface optimised for mobile devices such as tablets. The process is fully digital too – the paper form is being finally consigned to history. Chris Burdett is a Product Specialist at e-Health Innovation, with particular responsibility for eConsent:

“We’re developing new functionality for eConsent all the time. Stephen’s original idea has now been registered as eConsent 2.0. The product emails a link of the form to a patient, so they can review it at their leisure – and they simply sign on the device the next time they’re in the hospital. It’s a huge move forward for the patient experience.”

International Adoption

MidTECH are continuing to consult with e-Health Innovations and the Worcestershire team, supporting eConsent in its broader adoption. Via its links with the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, MidTECH has encouraged regional adoption through workshops and launch events.

Such has been the success of the partnership facilitated by MidTECH that adoption doesn’t stop there. “Only months after the official launch, we were invited to tender for introduction in thirty-eight hospitals in the USA,” says Chris. “As of now, we’ve made it through to the shortlist”.

“We wouldn’t have even heard about eConsent without MidTECH – and now we’re working to market it the world over. Their networks have helped to make this happen.”