An online system that has reduced the time taken to make clinical images available to consultants from four weeks to about four minutes has won a major award for the senior clinical photographer who developed it.

Simon Dove, head of medical illustration at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital won the ‘Innovation in Service Development’ category of the first NHS health science awards. He told E-Health Insider that before the new system, which is based on Photoware software, the clinical photographers used conventional film which was sent offsite for processing.

After development, the images were mounted on cards and had patient details attached to them before being sent to medical secretaries for filing with the patient record.The process could take up to four weeks.

About three years ago the medical illustration team switched to digital cameras. Images are downloaded to the hospital’s photographic database, patient details are attached and the image becomes available to the patient’s consultant.

“We have had a few occasions where patients have gone to theatre at quite short notice and under the old system we would not have had the availability to get the images to the consultant in time,” said Dove.

Day-to-day benefits flow from clinicians being able to exchange images easily to seek opinions and from the growing library of over 30,000 images some of which are available for teaching and research.

Dove explained that patients were asked for their consent at three levels: to keep the images in the record, use them for research and for teaching. The security in the system means that users cannot download images for research or teaching unless the appropriate consent is in place.

“You have to have special permission to view images and they can’t fall out of notes. It’s a lot safer than the previous system,” he said.

Dove said there were other departments around the country using digital technology but he believes the Norfolk and Norwich initiative was one of the first.

Speaking at the awards ceremony during the first Health Science Week (14-18 November), health minister Lord Warner said: “I am delighted to present these awards to these key members of the NHS team, who are really making a difference to patients with their groundbreaking work.

“We want all patients in England to have access to a modern NHS. An essential part of innovation is the development and introduction of new technologies, products and processes into healthcare pathways. The healthcare scientist workforce is right at the heart of innovation and modernisation in the NHS.”