Time and money, the NHS is lacking both. The following article examines what exactly a digital pen is and where it can buy the NHS more time and save them money, ending with real life examples.

Paper, paper, paper!

At the present moment in time, most NHS organisations are dealing with their paper (such as patient notes, questionnaires, surveys, FFT, patient records etc.…) in a very inefficient and time consuming manner. There are two common methods.

The first is to record all information on a paper diary, questionnaire and so forth, subsequently manually typing out data from the paper and into a system. There are clear disadvantages of such a method; it is time consuming, prone to error and essentially stops them doing from the things that matter (looking after the patient).

The second method is slightly more intelligent, all paper is scanned and digitised, however there may be lacking an easy way to extract data from digital records or retrieve historic data. Although, paper is eliminated, the method of storage is largely unintelligent. Adding to this, your system provider may impose various restrictions and costs to accessing the data.

A third and upcoming method of capturing data is using a device known as the digital pen…

What’s a digital pen?

A digital pen looks and works exactly like an ordinary pen with a few physical differences that makes it profoundly disruptive.

Firstly, it is slightly bigger than a usual pen, but still easy enough to hold and write as one would. Secondly, there is a camera attached to the pen. It is the camera that is the key functionality of the pen.

How does a digital pen work?

A user will use the pen to complete a form, questionnaire or patient diary/notes as per usual. What occurs simultaneously is that the attached camera takes 100 pictures per second of the pen strokes of the user. Once the document is complete, the user marks an active area of the document with a tick that tells the digital pen that the form has been completed.

The data is stored on the form, thereby transmitted to a smartphone via Bluetooth. A digital copy of the document has been created. Using a USB stick or Bluetooth, the digital document is sent to a verifier station to ensure the pen has recorded the data accurately. Thereby, the digital copy is archived and indexed and the relevant data extracted and stored in a database or system.

The advantages of a digital pen

  • It’s easy to use; use it, as you would an ordinary pen
  • Saves time; no manual data entry
  • Converts handwritten notes into digital texts
  • Easy to organise files and documents
  • Require fewer administrative staff
  • Better data quality
  • Staff have more time to work on what actually matters

Real life scenario: Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust

Royal Wolverhampton has been using digital pens since 2001 for all their district nurses and community staff who work remotely. It is estimated that the trust could save up to £1.2 billion pounds over four years (as of last year). The majority of the funds are saved owing to fewer or no requirements for administrative staff who would manually enter the data.

Read more about Wolverhampton Trusts use of digital pens.

Real life scenario: Welsh Ambulance Service Trust

The Welsh Ambulance Service deployed digital pens to use for completing patient clinical records.

Here is a description of the problem:

Each year in Wales, around 500,000 patient clinical records are completed by WAST’s ambulance crews. As well as leaving a copy of the form with the patient at home or hospital a duplicate paper copy of the form is filed by the ambulance clinician at the end of their shift. These forms are transported to the WAST clinical audit department for scanning and data verification. This current process can take a considerable time and the management team at WAST need more timely clinical data on their interaction with patients in order to share information across the NHS, as well as drive and measure improvements in patient care.

Since the introduction of the digital pen, there is no need to complete a duplicate copy as the handwritten forms are stored on the digital pen and transferred to the clinical audit department. Read more.


There is clear value of the digital pen in the NHS. From district nurses, ambulance staff to other type of remote work, the digital pen has the potential to remove unnecessary manual work, thereby increasing productivity.