Secondary Care

Imperial uses mixed-reality to reduce staff numbers on its COVID-19 wards

Staff at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have been exploring the use of mixed-reality in a pilot of Microsoft’s HoloLens on its COVID-19 wards.

The trust has been using the technology since 2017, but is now using it as part of its COVID-19 ward rounds.

The mixed-reality headset is being used by workers to send a secure live video feed to a computer screen in a nearby room. It means healthcare teams can see everything the doctor treating the patient can see. The headset enables the wearer to interact with ‘holograms’ made visible through the headset using just gestures and voice, which means the team outside the ward can also share medical notes, scans and x-rays via the headset for the doctor to see while with the patient.

The trust said using the technology has reduced the amount of time staff are spending in high-risk areas by up to 83%.

James Kinross, a consultant surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare, said “In March, we had a hospital full of COVID-19 patients. Doctors, nurses and allied healthcare professionals providing ward care had a high risk of exposure to the virus and many became ill. Protecting staff was a major motivating factor for this work, but so was protecting patients. If our staff are ill they can transmit disease and they are unable to provide expert medical care to those who needed it most.”

“I’ve used HoloLens before in surgery and we quickly realised it had a unique role to play because we could take advantage of its hands-free telemedicine capabilities. Most importantly, it could be used while wearing PPE. It solved a major problem for us during a crisis, by allowing us to keep treating very ill patients while limiting our exposure to a deadly virus. Not only that, it reduced our PPE consumption and significantly improved the efficiency of our ward rounds.”

Healthcare professionals wearing the technology can also conduct a Microsoft Teams call, providing an opportunity to seek advice.

James Kinross added “We’re now looking into other areas where we can use HoloLens because it is improving healthcare without removing the human; you still have a doctor next to your bed, treating you. Patients like it, too. They are interested in this new piece of technology that’s helping them.”