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Video: Isosec and Barts Health on transforming authentication with Virtual Smartcards

HTN was joined by health tech professionals from Isosec, an authentication and identity management provider for the NHS, and Barts Health NHS Trust, for a live webcast on Virtual Smartcards and how they can be utilised across healthcare settings.

In this special Friday session, the discussion panel included speakers Michael Latimer, the CEO of Isosec, the company’s CTO Marc Poulaud, and Andrew Vince, Head of People Systems and Insight at Barts Health.

Andrew began the talk by giving the audience a brief background on Barts and a taste of the trust’s Isosec Virtual Smartcard experience and journey.

“We’re a large acute trust with 17,000 staff – but we often talk about 24,000 staff, which includes our temporary workers, students, as well as porters…we’re spread across five hospital sites,” he explained.

At the trust, Andrew said, “pretty much every clinician has a smartcard for access to clinical systems – if they don’t have a smartcard, they can’t get in.”

“We are in an environment where we have a large proportion of our IT estate delivered through VDI infrastructure. Some of it is still not [but] our wards are largely paperless and we’re just in the process of moving to e-prescribing as well, so there’s a lot going on digitally – it’s a busy place.”

Barts has seen the number of Virtual Smartcard users jump from 7,000 to 9,000 since March of this year. Describing their journey with Isosec’s product and the adoption process, Andrew added: “We started background work in late 2019, early 2020, to do the testing to make sure things were set up and ready to be able move to the Virtual Smartcard solution.”

This meant that the trust had “done a lot of the groundwork” so that when the pandemic hit in March 2020, they were “moving quickly to a position where they had clinicians and most of the admin staff in the trust working from home” and this enabled them to move swiftly to roll-out the Virtual Smartcards to those working remotely.

The move “enabled clinicians to do their outpatient clinics, physiotherapists to do their online clinics, admin staff to be able to get into the systems from home”, he said, and that situation provided “the initial drive” to enrol around 1,000 users and let the programme build from there.

Growth, Andrew commented, had mainly been driven by ‘word of mouth’ – “colleagues telling colleagues” – although he noted that they had also been able to provide a “push” through Twitter, to communicate the benefits of uptake.

The trust is now seeing roughly 150-200 new registrations per week for the smartcards, while Michael added that Isosec runs a ‘net promoter score’ to track end user feedback within the product, and Barts had an organisational NPS score of 74, which it considers “outstanding”.

On feedback from his end, Andrew commented that senior clinician support had been crucial, with benefits including that staff now don’t have to queue to resolve technical issues, no longer losing “40 minutes a day just to unlock a smartcard…that sounds extreme, but often that is actually the case,” he said.

Andrew also mentioned information governance and safety benefits – with staff not being required to remove physical cards from PCs or repeat the process of inserting cards and logging into other devices, especially when clinicians are moving around in highly-pressured environments such as emergency departments. Another important aspect is infection control, with Andrew explaining that it can be “easily missed” but that “if you haven’t got a physical, dirty card being moved from one PC to another, that’s one extra element of infection control you’ve got in place.”

Michael then turned the discussion towards Isosec’s own journey. “The story [with Barts] is based on openness and transparency between us and a good working relationship between our teams,” he said, “it’s a really exciting story for us.”

Explaining that Isosec has served the NHS for 17 years and has around 100 NHS organisations using their Virtual Smartcard product, he said the company had been working in partnership with NHS Digital, making sure that their solutions were accredited and secured. “Everything we’re trying to do is about bringing consumer grade technology to the NHS, so that our users can enjoy the type of authentication that we as consumers enjoy for online banking or online shopping,” he said.

On the Virtual Smartcard, which was launched in January 2018, he highlighted that its aim is to be “an alternative to a physical smartcard” and a solution that can be used in the same IT systems that customers would use for their physical cards, ensuring the tech can just “slot in” and “work alongside existing NHS ecosystems.”

The technology is cloud-based and built around a premise of “any device, any platform, anyway,” with Isosec recognising that for trusts such as Barts, the system had to work 24/7 and offer high availability.

Now three-and-a-half years old, the solution is now very mature, and Isosec are continually collaborating with their customers to develop and improve it, Michael said, adding that Virtual Smartcard now has “advanced electronic signatures” capability for e-prescribing, to make the entire authentication and electronic prescription journey “simple, fast and easy to use”.

The team then took on a Q&A session, fielding questions from the audience, on everything from self-enrolment, through to tips on implementation.

Asked how easy self-service enrolment is for new users, Marc stepped in to respond, saying: “We designed the self-service for enrolment to be as simple as possible for users. It’s a very simple process; they receive an email invite, click on the link and they can set up themselves…we’ve worked hard to improve that to make it easy for users to enrol, and also to unlock their Virtual Smartcard themselves…they don’t need to rely on the IT help desk.”

On what advice they would share with NHS organisations interested in implementing Virtual Smartcards, Andrew answered: “Get senior clinicians onboard early – I think, if they’re onboard, if they support it then others will follow. Roles like Chief Information Officers…they’re critical as part of this journey.”

While on the Virtual Smartcard’s compatibility with EPR systems, Marc said, “it will work with any EPR for both authentication and e-prescribing – we’ve designed it and it’s been implemented to work transparently with all the clinical systems.”

To find out more about the Isosec Virtual Smart Card solution, and find videos on enrolment, visit:

You can also watch the webcast and Q&A session in full, below: