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Social Innovation

Major Operation: The UK’s first fully integrated hospital-wide digital transformation

A patient-centric approach to managing care

Science and technology are already transforming medicine; now digital solutions to better management will radically change and improve people’s hospital experience

Picture the scene. It’s a busy Saturday night in a city hospital, and in Accident and Emergency it’s busy, filled with people with all kinds of different needs as they wait for help. Sifting what care which people need, and how urgently, might seem a Sisyphean task – neverending, and always challenging.

As hospitals evolve to embrace the latest advances in medical science and technology, scenarios like these highlight the fact that much of hospital administration is still stuck in the analogue age. Patients are managed through their hospital journey on handwritten whiteboards, handed over to the care of colleagues either over the phone or face to face, with lots of paperwork that can go awry. There is also often no overall plan of what beds are available, where, and when, or of which services need them.

But at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, an Outstanding provider of hospital, community, primary and social care services locally, this is all set to change. As part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, Salford Royal will adopt the UK’s first fully integrated Digital Control Centre, transforming the hospital’s acute and integrated care processes, to an advanced, patient-centric, digital system.

The 10-year project with Hitachi Consulting will use digitisation and automation to give staff the information they need, when they need it, and consistently - to make sure that patients receive better, more efficient and effective, individual care.

Providing real-time data about available beds is just the start of this. Patients will also be monitored as they move through the hospital’s systems and, using Artificial Intelligence, clinicians can be alerted at the first sign of patient deterioration, rather than at the point someone checks in on a sick person. Speedier responses to changes in people’s health could reduce the severity of their illness, as well as reducing the length of their stay.

Real Time Locating Systems will mean patients can be quickly and easily located, so that if there’s a delay (i.e. coming back from radiology to the ward), staff can be more flexible and can reschedule their activities accordingly. Light Detection and Ranging sensors (LiDaR) can monitor patients without intruding on their privacy, detecting queues and high-risk moments, for example, a medicated patient trying to get out of bed and at risk of falling.

Even practical tasks like alerting a porter when a room becomes empty so it can be cleaned and made ready for someone else can all be managed by Smart Scheduling technology.

The benefits for patients are obvious – people will have less time to wait, more responsive care, and hospital stays that are no longer than necessary. Where nurses often now get bogged down in administration and paperwork, a digitised system will also free them up to spend more time caring for people.

The first phase concentrates on what happens in the hospital, solving problems staff currently experience, and relieving pressure in urgent care. But it will also allow the development of a digital replica of the way the hospital is organised, allowing clinicians and operational managers to model potential changes in the way they organise patient care. By simulating new systems before they’re trialled, patients should also benefit from well-planned, evidence-based changes when they happen in real-time.

Not only that, but there’s potential in the future for a digitised system to take effect outside of the hospital as well. For example, the team in A&E might be able to dispatch a neighbourhood care team to treat a known patient at home instead of bringing them into the hospital in an ambulance, avoiding inappropriate admissions. 3D-printed biomedical sensors and remote medical devices could allow patients to be safely monitored at home, with the relevant healthcare services being sent out to them there, as a kind of ‘remote ward’ overseen by the hospital’s network.

The hospitals of the future don’t need to be chaotic and over overcrowded – this intelligent system will help provide for the needs of patients and will release more time for staff to care and deploy their clinical expertise. Who knows? Perhaps the technological evolution of admin might even prove to be as good for our health as advances in science.