North Mersey Health Informatics Service has implemented a remote access solution for community-based clinicians, using laptops and 3G services.

Already, 90 clinicians who work in Mersey Care Trust’s learning disabilities directorate have been equipped with lightweight laptops and 3G wireless data cards, allowing them to access clinical information systems, email and electronic diaries.

An independent evaluation by Dr Farath Arshad from The Centre for Health and Social Care Informatics at Liverpool John Moores University has shown several benefits. Travel costs are down, clinicians are seeing more patients and they are spending more time with them.

Mark Bostock, director of service delivery at the North Mersey HIS, said: “The trust has 10,000 users, 57 sites and a geographical catchment area of 650 square miles. We felt that mobile technology could help our staff do their jobs, but when we looked into what other people were doing, we found that they were at an early stage with very small pilots without much comeback.”

The HIS ran a proof of concept with five users earlier this year and then quickly rolled out the solution to 90 users in a single directorate this autumn.

Bostock said the system had addressed data security issues. Clinicians access the trust’s core systems through a portable office key that authenticates their ID, establishes a secure network connection and then launches applications.

He said: “This is a two factor authentication process. No data is stored on computers as it is remote access via VPN.” The trust can monitor internet usage and has found no instances of abuse.

Bostock added that clinicians were delighted with the system. “There has been a major reduction in travel costs, it has enabled clinicians to see more patients than ever before and has meant that they can access up-to-date records at the point of care. They have also been able to reach other health professionals with timely communications to resolve issues quickly and efficiently.”

The evaluation showed that the time saved on commuting is increasing the length of time being spent with patients. Bostock added: “Being able to access information remotely enables clinicians to answer questions about their condition and treatment more fully.”

The HIS has enabled the devices to switch to wireless LAN when clinicians are in the office, allowing them to hot desk.

Bostock declined to comment on the cost of the service, saying that the trust finance department was working on the figures. He said: “The costs were the laptops and the 3G cards and obviously we got a good deal on those because we were bulk buying.”

The HIS intends to roll out the wireless access to more clinicians and to build in access at new sites now being developed in a £250m rebuild programme.