Spinal patients of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital are trialling a web-based application that allows them to track their recovery from home.

The HealthUnlocked Tracker has been developed by web software developer HealthUnlocked in collaboration with one of the hospital’s spinal surgeons, Matthew Shaw.

The system enables doctors and patients to track the results of back operations in the form of patient-reported outcome measures.

It is intended to help patients quantify how effective their treatment has been, and to give doctors a visible record of the results.

The system uses iPads, which patients used to input data at home or while waiting for an appointment. This gives their consultant access to more information in real-time. After treatment, they can monitor their progress over the web.

The information is stored on an independent server, with patient inputted data and consultant inputted data, such as treatments and dates, stored separately.

The two are only combined to provide an overall view of patient progress. Patients consent to that information being shared.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley visited the hospital yesterday to see how the HealthUnlocked Tracker is working.

He said the system is exactly the type of innovation he is hoping can be implemented in the NHS to improve patients’ quality of life.

“It’s absolutely the sort of innovation that puts patients at the heart of their own care and drives up patient outcomes.”

However, the project was funded entirely by private investors. Shaw said he became passionate about developing a tracking tool about 18 months ago.

“I saw that in my practice we had no way of measuring our outcome and actually knowing if what we were doing for patients was a good thing. I would know on an individual basis but in terms of groups of patients I had no way of tracking that data.”

It was then up to him and HealthUnlocked to secure funding for the project’s development. This came from five private companies, which each contributed £8,000 – amounting to a total investment of £40,000.

Development took six months and the software has been introduced to Shaw’s spinal unit over the past month.

He said as well as having benefits for the patient, the tracker will require more accountability from surgeons.

“In terms of groups of patients I wouldn’t have a clue how successful I was being. It seemed me we were missing out on a whole level of information both to improve healthcare for patients, but also to learn about what I was doing and trying to improve myself really.”

The software has full interoperability with the hospital’s iSoft iCS patient administration system, as information is downloaded and added to patient records.

The pilot will run for two years in the spinal unit, and discussions are already underway about introducing the system into other parts of the hospital.