The NHS’s10-year plan, drawn up by frontline staff, patient groups and national experts is intended to ensure a fit-for-future UK health service. The NHS Long Term Plan outlines how the health service will spend the £20bn funding promised by the prime minister in June 2018.
While the plan outlines the division of budget between key departments and community projects, it will come as little surprise that technology features prominently throughout, from digital general practitioners to the potential use of artificial intelligence.
The good news is that, while innovation and new ways of working will be key to the project, the technology to help streamline and enhance the NHS already exists. The push toward a digital healthcare system has long been underway. And while progress may be perceived as not fast enough, the move away from old fashioned technologies and paper-based records has already enhanced the way many clinicians work.
Technology will help the NHS achieve its 10-year plan in a number of ways. It is important to overhaul old systems, software and hardware. One of the biggest pain points to address is the way that patients and their records are managed, and how pharmacy inventory, medicine stocks and assets are monitored or tracked. This means moving away from the use of legacy paper records and hand-written labels, each of which offer limited accuracy and have led to inefficiencies and lost opportunities.
Zebra Technologies is working with a number of NHS institutions to help streamline processes and reduce repetitive and time-consuming tasks to ensure time is used as it should be – for patient safety and care.
A major complaint for both staff and patients is a lack of time. For busy staff juggling layers of administration, inventory management and staff meetings, time spent at patient bedsides has been dramatically reduced. If clinicians and care staff could spend less time in the hospital pharmacy and more with patients, their value in the patient journey would increase and, in some cases, missed symptoms or alternative treatments may even be uncovered.
Lancashire NHS Hospital Trust wanted to directly address this problem and in 2018 the Trust turned to Zebra for help.
Zebra deployed hand-held mobile computers to improve inventory management of medical consumables, enhance patient care and safety and drive efficiencies in supply chain and asset management. Staff use the mobile computers to scan patient wristbands every time consumables or implants are administered, reducing the chance of human error and improving the speed of processes.
Once the solution was implemented, the Trust saw £5 million of balance sheet adjustments recovered through improved stock management
Processes like this are also having a positive impact on wrongful lawsuits. The number of successful legal claims against the NHS has more than doubled in the past decade which has impacted patient care due to the amount of time, effort and money expended on them. However, through digitalisation and smarter tracking of information, the risk of malpractice and wrongful administering of drugs, for example, is greatly reduced meaning money can be channelled back into patient care.
Patient safety is at the heart of everything the NHS does and technology will offer the NHS an even more refined method to enable safer care. Leeds Teaching Hospital is already implementing modern solutions to ensure the safety of its patients by installing printers and wristbands as part of the Scan4Safety initiative.
The new technology allows the Hospital to digitally track patients through their hospital journey with a barcode patient identification system which ensures they get the right treatment and undergo correct procedures. Not only is this a safer, more reliable system but it is infinitely quicker and updates their medical record digitally, accurately and instantly.
This means, should a patient move home and require their medical records at a different facility, they can be accessed instantly, from anywhere avoiding any waiting time and reducing confusion among new or different care-givers. The early predictions from the Scan4Safety initiative show it has the potential to save lives and up to £1 billion for the NHS over seven years.
Inventory and stock management are also of vital importance to the NHS. When the Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust decided to overhaul its inventory management system, it implemented Zebra handheld scanners to record usage, track and trace products and automatically replenish the inventory.
This integration led to a huge shift in the amount of time physicians were spending on manually updating stock levels. The numbers speak for themselves when the Trust recorded an 84 per cent reduction in the time clinicians spent engaging in stock ordering and replenishment for head and neck surgery (maxillofacial). A 12.5 per cent reduction in the financial balance sheet and stock holding was also seen.
The system helped the Trust eliminate stock obsolescence, minimise wastage, reduce the level of storage space used, improve stock control and improve patient safety. Rolled out across the entire NHS, this system would obviously have a huge impact on time, resource and patient care alike.
Technology’s role in healthcare has never been more important than it is today. Its advances are changing the industry at an accelerated rate and it is improving the treatment of patients on a daily basis. This is why it is imperative for the NHS to keep pace and implement the best solutions for the problems at hand and ahead. It must also make sure that these solutions are installed nationwide.
And, indeed, central to the success of this ambition is integration. Better funding is great, but if the NHS continues to operate in silos then the same challenges will continue to arise. A commitment to communication and digital innovation must be at the heart of the strategy and are ultimately the key to unlocking the challenge.
If, in the next 10 years, the NHS wants to achieve its goal of improved patient care and safety while also having improved inventory management and stock control, it will need to start implementing solutions that will drive real, actionable and lifesaving changes in all of its hospitals and trusts. There is no question that there is a mammoth job ahead, but the budget increase and the 10-year plan show massive promise for the UK’s most valuable institution.
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