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5 ways digital technology can improve the NHS

The NHS has been announcing major plans to invest in technology across the country. As well as funding to develop relevant expertise, they have launched a range of digital services, aimed at making it easier for patients to book appointments and order prescriptions online, as well as proposals to create approved apps that link directly to patient health records.

All of these initiatives are looking at ways of moving from paper-based to digital systems across the NHS. At a time when there is increasing pressure on NHS organisations to operate more efficiently, while coping with the needs of a rapidly ageing population, any ways of streamlining services are obviously welcome.

However, alongside these high-profile, patient-focused projects, there are many other areas where critical but less-publicised work is carried out, and these would also experience real benefits from new technology. Work performed in these areas is still highly regulated, with a need to carry out regular monitoring and follow set processes to guarantee the highest levels of patient safety. They span both clinical and Estates and Facilities (E&F) functions, and cover both in-house and outsourced teams.

Replacing paper-based manual checks with digital work management and wireless monitoring can therefore deliver real benefits in areas that include:

1. Laboratory and pharmacy cold chain monitoring
Protecting clinical samples, medicines and blood supplies relies on them being kept within set temperature ranges defined and audited by national bodies. Manually checking cold chain temperatures is time-consuming and fails to give a complete picture of storage history or warn of equipment issues or failures until it is too late. Replacing manual systems with 24/7 automated monitoring of temperatures and equipment door statuses releases hours of staff time whilst cloud-based alerting and reporting delivers a real-time picture of the cold chain for powerful diagnostics, increased control  and complete peace of mind for managers and regulators.

2. On the ward
As with clinical samples, medicines stored on the ward need to be kept at certain temperatures. It is often nurses who are responsible for checking these regularly, taking time away from their patients, whilst central pharmacy must tend to alerts if and when over-sensitive min/max thermometers trigger alarms. The latest wireless monitoring technology delivers stable, accurate temperature data allowing users to control the monitoring of ward fridges more closely to ensure that medicines are always within a safe range and prevent alarms from going off whenever a door is opened. Door status sensors can, however, be triggered if fridges are left open once medicines have been removed. It’s a solution that will help with patient safety and security, and ensure nurses can spend more of their time tending to patients knowing that the fridges will look after themselves

3. Food safety
Every catering operation has to meet stringent food hygiene standards – and within a hospital these are even more vital. Food safety incidents that affect already sick patients could be fatal, meaning that regulations are tight. Using digital work management hospital caterers can ensure that all mandatory checks are completed, with staff clearly guided through exactly what they have to do and when, with tamperproof digital recording providing a clear record of each step of the HACCP process. Catering managers can be alerted if checks are not completed at set times, allowing fast follow up action to be taken.

4. Regulatory checks
Large sites, such as hospital campuses, are complex to manage with a wide range of regulatory checks that need to be completed regularly. For example, all fire alarms need to be tested, and the results recorded for compliance purposes. All water systems need to be regularly checked for the Legionella bacteria by ensuring that they are within the right temperature range, and can heat up and supply hot water within a tight timescale. Digital work management enables you to set out a schedule of when checks need to be completed, and by whom, ensuring they are never overlooked. Results can be collected digitally, either by entering data into a handheld unit or through Bluetooth probes that automatically take water temperatures. This not only saves time, but it deskills these operations, meaning they can be completed by more junior staff, freeing up management time.

5. Maintenance checks
Keeping tabs on the wide range of machinery within a hospital is a full time job. Regular Planned Preventative Maintenance checks can be scheduled with digital work management, with handheld units guiding staff to what needs to be examined, outlining the process that needs to be completed, and recording the results. Automated monitoring, such as of temperature or humidity, can also provide an early warning of when equipment is malfunctioning, with managers alerted if readings start to rise or fall uncharacteristically.

Digital technology has the potential to drive major improvements across the NHS. However, it is vital that its advantages are applied across every part of the health service if efficiency is to be increased and patient care safeguarded.

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