NHS trust takes ‘massive steps forward’ with Microsoft Azure

Staff at one of the largest and busiest NHS trusts in the UK have said Microsoft’s Azure cloud has enabled them to take “massive steps forward” in using technology to help patients.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT), which treats around 1.5 million people every year and employs more than 20,000 staff at seven sites, is currently moving its in-house Electronic Health Record (EHR) system – one of the key resources used by healthcare teams – from on-premise servers to Azure.

Every patient has an EHR, which is a digital record of their health and care, including things like medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, allergies, test results, scans and immunisations. It is updated in real-time and used by frontline healthcare staff to inform treatment.

Martin Waugh, Head of EHR Development at LTHT, explained that the development of the EHR was constantly responding to emerging clinical and organisational priorities, as the recent COVID-19 pandemic highlighted. Between 2015 and today, the number of electronic forms completed per month has grown by 25,000 to more than 1.5 million. When the migration is complete, Azure will provide a resilient and scalable infrastructure to the EHR growing at this rate.

“The EHR system is a critical part of supporting any hospital,” Waugh said. “If clinicians are unable to access it, they can’t get timely information about their patients, and that obviously has a direct and negative impact on the healthcare they can provide. This is clearly a risk and a realistic possibility if we keep our EHR system in on-premise servers because there is a limit to what they can handle with a platform that is constantly growing and evolving.

“Microsoft Azure ensures we can provide continuity of care to our patients. Its resiliency, transparency, security, privacy tools and ability to cope with large numbers of users, meant moving to Azure was a flexible and appropriate fit to our needs. We are now developing and deploying new clinical capabilities directly into the cloud, such as electronic forms we can send directly to patients so they can complete them at home or while they are waiting in clinics. The cloud has allowed us to take massive steps forward in our trust’s digital transformation and positioned us for many years to come.”

LTHT is one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe, a regional and national centre for specialist treatment and a renowned biomedical research facility. All of these are also connected to the EHR system. In addition, there are plans to build two new hospitals at Leeds General Infirmary – a state-of-the-art hospital providing adult healthcare services and a world class new home for the Leeds Children’s Hospital.

Key to LTHT’s EHR system is that it can only be used by healthcare teams approved by the trust, and Microsoft cannot access any of the information or data.

The Azure cloud now powers the 200 electronic whiteboards on their ward. Information is displayed on the whiteboards to give clinicians a real-time view of their patients and doctors, nurses and allied health professionals can now view that information on a Leeds hospitals mobile phone app. This helps frontline healthcare teams make better and faster decisions related to care. This Azure-based element is now servicing seven million electronic whiteboard requests a month by healthcare teams.

Paul Jones, Chief Digital Information Officer at LTHT, said: “The thing that’s really impressed us about using Azure is that we have managed to do this substantial digital transformation project with no disruption to any of our services, which is obviously incredibly important in a hospital. We were expecting some disruption to our systems because we are working on a major piece of infrastructure engineering. But it’s been business as usual; the only difference clinicians have seen is the ability to get patient information quicker than before.”

LTHT’s EHR system is also being used by healthcare teams in Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and staff are starting to look at how their experiences with Azure can help more trusts improve how they provide care.

Jones added: “This is a system that has been developed by the NHS, with the NHS, for the NHS; and I believe that should be used to support other hospitals and trusts as they move towards digitisation. There are many trusts around the country that have pretty basic electronic health record systems or no system at all. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is significant in terms of size and scope, so if our EHR on Azure can support us to work more efficiently, we’re pretty sure it can support many other healthcare providers.”

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