Technologists at services consultant Accenture have developed a digital pen and paper system which they claim can improve patient care in the NHS.
Nurses currently use a traditional pen and paper to record patient observations, such as heart rate and temperature, on charts that hang at the end of a patient's bed.
But this is inefficient because nurses can forget to fill them in, and doctors often spend more time collecting charts than analysing them, according to Ben Burdsall, of Accenture's technology labs.
The company has developed a system using a pen with a built in digital camera and processor, and paper with special pattern printed on it, which allows the pen to identify where it is on the paper.
Using this technology, developed by digital pen developer Anoto, nurses could mark the charts in the same way, but when the digital pen is returned to the nursing station and docked, the information added to the paper chart is also updated electronically.
"The nurses go round in exactly the same way as before and leave the chart at the end of the bed. But doctors can view the digital double of the observation chart," said Burdsall.
"It is highly graphical information and that's where the pen is so good. We aren't changing the way the nurses operate; introducing cumbersome technology is not the solution here."
Rather than recording the image of the nurses' observations, the data is processed using XML so that it can be analysed by the hospital systems and added to electronic patient records.
The system can learn when observations need to be taken, and can alert the ward sister if one is late. This could be critical in some wards, according to Burdsall.
He added that the combination of real and digital forms would give hospitals additional security.
"It's a failsafe solution because as you write with a physical pen and paper you still have the physical chart. And if you lose the chart you have the digital copy," he said.
Accenture has shown the system to five NHS doctors in the UK, and now intends to approach health authorities with the system which could be ready in six months.
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