The relentless rise in patient numbers, increases in emergency admissions and an overstretched workforce has led to long waiting times for surgery patients. This is evidenced in the NHS’ 2018 Operating Theatres Project Report, which found that 13% of patients were having to wait over 18 weeks for surgery - the highest level since January 2009.

With pressure mounting on the health service, the need for greater operational efficiency is paramount and modern technologies promise a powerful solution. From the operating room (OR) and beyond, integrated solutions and IP (internet protocol, referring to methods used to share data between two or more devices) technology promise to streamline operations, transform conventional clinical spaces and subsequently strengthen standards of clinical care.

The digital operating room

The operating rooms are the beating heart of any hospital and the future of surgery starts with a digital OR.

Every modern OR is crammed with technology to help surgeons, anaesthetists and support staff perform their tasks with optimum efficiency. But this additional complexity is not without its challenges. With new modalities, more screens and a greater volume of data available, there’s an increased need to streamline the sharing, storage and management of video data captured during surgery across the clinical setting.

Replacing analogue or digital video connections with an all-IP solution will empower surgeons and clinical staff to plan, route, record and share medical image data – inside and outside the OR. Enabling digital image data from any source to be instantly shared to devices across the entire hospital workflow can help to improve efficiency, training and the safety of the operation procedure itself.

Crucially, healthcare delivery will improve as operating teams will be able to consult specialists immediately by using IP-based systems to communicate with remote experts who need to be engaged while straightforward tasks are automated - freeing up time. Finally, new video-over-IP solutions can encrypt data, ensuring even greater security. In a cybersecurity conscious world, solutions must address the various challenges found in the operating rooms not only of today, but also tomorrow.

Collaboration: from the OR to the classroom

While patient treatment is at the heart of any medical institute, learning and teaching is a crucial part of the medical community.

By harnessing IP technology, real-time high-resolution images, audio and/or recorded content from the OR can be utilised on education platforms, in classrooms as well as lecture theatres. For medical students, this will provide even more clarity and a fresh insight into how an OR functions.

New solutions include annotation and illustration features, allowing users to personalise images for specific lessons. On top of this, integration with smart applications and clever management of content means all recorded imagery, video and audio can be automatically added to a database of knowledge that can be easily accessed or searched for future use.

The collaborative benefits of such technology mean visual content from the OR can be used well beyond the medical environment itself and can be shared with institutes for inclusion in course material and accessed any time on a desktop, at a medical conference, or even from home.

Future-proofing and adaptability

As technology is being embedded further into the fabric of modern hospitals, the optimum solutions are those which can evolve alongside the ever-maturing medical field. After all, any technologysolution is only as powerful as the perceived value it adds for a whole hospital, so adaptability is king.

With hospitals needing to protect their budgets and future-proof investments more than ever, the need to avoid constant costly updates to infrastructure is critical. The key lies in finding a solution that complements and enhances existing workflow requirements – rather than obstructing them. That means, finding a system that doesn’t limit the choices of source/modality which can be connected or the applications that can be added over time to enhance the workflow.

The beauty of innovative healthcare solutions is that they cannot only integrate seamlessly with hospital networks and existing workflows but are typically based on an open architecture.

Future trends

The future applications of video-over-IP in the medical environment are significant, and span far beyond the OR itself. From initial consultation through to post-operative care, 4K and 4K 3D compatible IP-technologies promise to transform operational efficiency in today's hospitals.

However, the end goal must always be on delivering clinical enhancements, achieving the best picture quality and supporting patient care. By helping hospitals to deliver on that goal, IP-based technology stands to support every step of the journey from diagnosis to post-operative care.