The world’s ageing population has transformed sustainable healthcare into a global priority, and both public sector organisations and private providers are seeking ways to do healthcare better and cheaper.

Digital is providing answers, with connected citizens already participating in their own healthcare from their smartphones. Primary and secondary healthcare providers are following suit, using mobile digital devices together with augmented reality (AR) to automate patient procedures safely.

Proof of the effectiveness and versatility of smartphone-based applications in healthcare comes via the Scan4Safety (S4S) pilot programmes, which have been trialled in the United Kingdom across National Health Service (NHS) trusts over the past 18 months. The initiative was designed to promote patient safety by ensuring that the correct drug is administered to the right person at the right time. It also provides compliance with the EU Falsified Medicines Directive, which is designed to eradicate fake drugs from the medical supply chain.

S4S deploys applications on smartphones that scan a bar code on a patient wristband — or on a medicine bottle — that in turn prompts customised feedback about dosage and treatment, all of which is easily readable on mobile devices. Staff at the hospitals involved in the trials have cited numerous benefits that combine to increase patient safety and reduce costs, including ease of product recall and a big reduction in both paperwork and administration — releasing staff time back to patient care.

“Twenty per cent of our orthopaedic theatre staff were spending at least an hour on stock management every week, and through S4S this time has been released back to patient care,” confirms Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. “Positive patient ID is now central — in a good place for the development of our digital strategy, including electronic prescribing and medicine administration, and electronic bed-management system, medical devices and equipment tracking.”

David Berridge, deputy chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, echoes this view and articulates a wider vision for AR in healthcare: “Augmented reality is the future. We need to track our patients 24×7 — we need to be sure that any products in our patients, they can track in the event of any product recall or safety concerns.”

In other medical fields, AR is proving invaluable in transferring clinical and surgical expertise to remote locations and conflict zones where health infrastructure is poor. Proximie is one such AR solution that enables healthcare professionals to interact with one another across a wide variety of clinical and surgical applications, regardless of geographical location.

The simplicity and low cost of accessing AR on smartphones by scanning bar codes means that healthcare procedures can be managed in the patient’s own home, as well as at the hospital bedside. Connecting patients with health processes and data on their smartphones, wherever they are, makes healthcare more patient-centric and sustainable, delivering better outcomes and lower per capita costs.