The Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire (SWSH) Cancer Network has upgraded its videoconferencing systems to allow members to collaborate without travelling, thus freeing up travel time to spend with patients, it says.

Terminals have been installed in several hospices, allowing clinicians working in palliative care to link into cancer units. The upgrade also means that more than two clinicians can talk with one another without any extra infrastructure.

Dr Peter Hargreaves, chair of the SWSH Cancer Network and consultant in palliative medicine at the Macmillan Cancer Unit, King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, said: "Video has become a crucial communications tool within the SWSH Cancer Network, as it allows remotely located cancer healthcare professionals to meet without any of the participants having to leave their respective hospitals, offices or hospices."

"The decision to upgrade was taken as we wanted to extend the network to include hospices enabling us to reach a larger audience – plus, we needed to hold multipoint conferences."

One way the system is being used is in education. "The educational point of view is very important," said Dr Hargreaves. "In a lot of fields there’s a shortage of specialists. For example, our recent educational conference was with a specialist dietician who came from the cancer centre to give specialist diets for the patients with cancer."

Educational conferences are being held monthly among clinicians within SWSH, said Dr Hargreaves, and they are "just taking off".

Dr Hargreaves told E-Health Insider that in his opinion, videoconferencing was far superior to simply using the telephone: "I have tried both, and the problem with the telephone is that you lose a lot."

In the area of education, a telephone would be impossible, Dr Hargreaves explained. "We may be having 30 or 40 people there, you just can’t do it by telephone conferencing." He added that it was important video conferencing wasn’t done on the cheap, otherwise very poor quality would result.

SWSH has deployed the Polycom systems across 14 sites, including the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, and several other sites in the town, East Surrey and Crawley Hospitals and hospices in Weybridge and Farnham.

The network is currently looking at the possibility of deploying the videoconferencing hardware for use in direct patient care.

Midhurst hospital

Above: Dr Peter Hargreaves (fifth from left) and staff at the South West Surrey Hospitals Cancer Network, outside Midhurst Hospital, West Sussex.