ICT should be at the heart of healthcare modernisation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is a vital component for the delivery of modern health care and ICT tools can play a key role in making patient care more efficient and streamlined, according to a March report by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

This report was authored by the ACCA in collaboration with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the European Commission.

''Information and communication technology (ICT) is widely utilised in the commercial world to support both day- to-day business operations and large-scale business transformation. However, in the health sector, whilst ICT is commonly used to deliver discrete, often isolated projects such as the Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS), its full potential for service redesign is still to be realised.

This must change. Just as a reliable ICT system is an essential component of any forward-thinking business in the 21st century, so it is a vital component to the delivery of modern health care.

This report tells the story of how one acute teaching hospital, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH), has embraced ICT and used it to engineer change and to begin to revolutionise service delivery across its emergency department – one of the largest and busiest in Europe.

In 2006 the emergency department (ED) was faced with the challenge of managing forecast patient growth of 5% per annum over the next five years – with the department already operating at near maximum capacity. An operational review was undertaken and found that the department suffered from severe communication problems, caused by the sheer size of the department, which delayed patient care and put the Trust at risk of breaching government access targets for treating emergency patients.

The solution, proposed and developed by Cisco working in association with its delivery partners, was a medical grade network to provide both wired and wireless (WiFi) network foundation and architectures to enable all communication, including advanced clinical applications and biomedical devices, to operate in a protected, interactive, resilient and responsive environment.

Utilising telephony services provided by fixed and portable handsets, the new system enables staff to instantly contact any other member of the ED team – wherever they are located within the department and beyond. The new processes make finding and speaking with people much more efficient and add governance to person-person process steps.

These changes have fostered a more collaborative working environment with all staff working together to ensure the new system's success. They have also resulted in an increase in patient satisfaction due to shorter waiting times and improved comfort levels.

Having taken the decision to make a significant investment in both new processes and new technologies the Trust was committed to assessing the benefits. This report begins that process.

At the time of writing the new collaboration technology had only just been introduced to the emergency department of NUH. However, significant improvements are already evident, including:

  • A reduction in the patient journey time of 23% for adult patients and 33% for paediatric patients;
  • an increase in productivity of doctors treating minor injury patients equating to a potential time saving of over seven hours per day or one doctor per year, and;
  • cost containment that will allow a full return on investment in the new technology to be realised in just 14 months.

The report explores in further detail the benefits outlined above and the considerable positive impact the new technology has had on patient satisfaction and the day-to-day work of the medical and care staff in the emergency department.''

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