The Christie NHS Foundation Trust has signed a two-year contract with UK consultancy Avenue3 to build and deploy its Patient Engagement Platform and E-Referral solutions, which are underpinned by openEHR technology, making it the first trust in England to do so.  

The project is set to support greater digital functionality for clinicians providing care and improved patient communications to cancer patients at the trust. It is the second project in England for Avenue 3, which is also providing architecture support for Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Trust.

In an interview with Digital Health News, Avenue 3 Founder and Director Phil Bottomley said the openEHR data standard has a high level of granularity and accuracy, making it well-suited to clinical data.

“We’re not a product supplier; we are building this with the Christie,” Bottomley added. “Christie a specialists cancer centre, so their mantra is ‘we should be different’. With cancer, capturing the data at high accuracy is really important because it is a long disease and the research is important, so a lot of the approach  goes into modelling the data.”

“It’s a model that can be shared between different vendors,” he said. “Our strategy is that we should be focusing on how to store data separate from the vendor layer.” Although the market for openEHR platforms remains relatively immature, the standard is becoming more prevalent across Europe, Bottomley said. 

The first stage of the project is the E-Referral portal, which will go live in February 2024. Previously, external referrals were delaying patient journeys due to paper processes within the trust.

Once live, referrals will be digital and instantly received by the trust, reducing paper referrals. Additionally, patients will be able to see their referrals in the portal and enable them to keep track of where they are in their cancer journey. 

Simultaneously, the trust and Avenue3 are developing and implementing the Patient Engagement Portal, built on openEHR standards. This will feed into the existing Patient Administration System (PAS) and also link with the E-Referral system, serving as a centralised portal for all patient communications and information.

In the portal, patients will have access to a single landing page with information on their diagnosis, upcoming appointments, treatment plans, and cancer journey, further improving patient experience. The portal will also have the option to send appointment invitations via SMS or email, depending on patient preference. 

Streamlining workflows

Up until now, the trust has largely used paper-based patient communications for appointments and treatment information.

Speaking on the importance of the project, Patricia Reilly, head of digital programmes at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust said: “As the largest single-site cancer centre in Europe, serving a population of more than 60,000 patients a year, we’re always looking for ways to improve care for patients.” 

“It can often be a difficult time for patients undergoing cancer treatment, it’s important that we can make every interaction with the trust as seamless as possible, notifying patients about appointments in a timely manner and communicating important information to their digital or non-digital preferences.

“Both solutions will not only streamline workflows for clinicians but enhance communication and engagement for patients and ultimately improve referral processes.”  

Once complete, the project will benefit clinicians as well as patients, by streamlining workflows and reducing paper usage, all while being built on openEHR standards.

Earlier this year, The Christie became the first specialist cancer trust to deploy CardMedic to help reduce health inequalities for patients, making it the first specialist cancer trust to use the healthcare communications app.