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NHS Worcestershire Health ICT Services: Improved utilisation of assets releases cash for hospitalsEnquire now
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services for the health community in Worcestershire are delivered by a shared services organisation called Worcestershire Health ICT Services (WHICTS). Created to leverage technology to deliver more efficient and effective healthcare, BT is a key WHICTS partner.
John Thornbury, IT Director at WHICTS, says: “We needed to integrate voice and data networks for a flexible and robust infrastructure to support our evolving needs.”
A key element was a leading edge wired and wireless infrastructure for the main Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust sites: the Alexandra Hospital at Redditch, the Kidderminster Hospital and Treatment Centre in Kidderminster, and the Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester itself. In particular, wireless technology was seen as crucial in completing the WHICTS unified communications strategy.
“The advantage of a wireless infrastructure is that it provides mobility, for example enabling the collection of data at the bedside,” explains John Thornbury. “It contributes to a comprehensive unified communications strategy underpinning greater efficiency and a more sustainable approach to better patient care.”
A year on, the wireless infrastructure is enabling the implementation of a leading-edge asset management system that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.
John Thornbury says: “We have thousands of pieces of medical equipment such as ultrasound machines, infusion devices, and specialist beds, but we don’t always know where each item is located. This impacts patient care as well as preventative maintenance routines. It consumes valuable staff time hunting around for things when they should be treating patients. That’s not a good use of clinical time.”
BT was chosen to help design and install the fixed and wireless network technology at the main hospital sites. “BT gave us specialist advice and guidance, for example in designing the new wireless infrastructure to ensure optimum coverage,” says John Thornbury.
At the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, a Cisco-based wired infrastructure is complemented by an overlay of more than 2,000 wireless access points. The network is set up to provide the flexibility needed to support future wireless applications, far beyond current known requirements. As well as supporting applications such as RFID, the network provides public internet access for patients and visitors via BT Wi-fi.
The RFID concept is simple yet very effective. An active RFID tag is permanently attached to each item of equipment. This emits a low power signal that can be detected by the wireless network. Using the hospital floor plan and triangulation from wireless access points, the location of each tagged item in the hospital is pinpointed to within around one metre.
As well as location the RFID tag provides other valuable data through programmable buttons that can signal the item’s status. For example, one button is permanently set to report whether the item is free or in use, to speed up a search.
“We selected BT to lead the RFID implementation, along with its commercial partners,” adds John Thornbury, “because its experience meant that we could guarantee getting the solution right first time.”
Some 6,000 items of mobile equipment valued at tens of millions of pounds are in use across the three main hospital sites. These range from specialist beds to scanners and defibrillators. Jeremy Thomas, Chair Medical Equipment Committee and Chair Investment Committee at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, says: “Using RFID we will be able to reduce our overall inventory by five to 10 per cent through optimum utilisation. That provides substantial cash releasing benefits.”
For example, the Trust rents specialist beds. Using RFID it will have a far better view of bed status. It is estimated that this will cut rental costs by 20 to 30 per cent. Further advantages of the RFID tagging regime are ensuring that calibration and maintenance regimes are adhered to for better patient safety; and reducing the possibility of theft as equipment becomes ever more complex and expensive.
Countless valuable nursing hours are being saved by RFID because staff no longer have to hunt for vital equipment. John Thornbury concludes: “We’re still learning about the potential benefits of RFID, but already we expect to realise a return on the investment inside two years.”
The wireless network is also transforming working practices. For example, rather than queuing up at a nurses’ station to access a ward terminal, doctors can view test results on a laptop at the bedside. Similarly, clinical outcomes can be recorded on central electronic records in real time, so there’s no need for note taking and later re-keying of data. As well as improving efficiency, direct input greatly reduces the chance of error and improves the quality of patient information.
“Having patient results available at the bedside via the wireless network may only save doctors a few minutes per patient but it all adds up,” reports Jeremy Thomas. “That’s hundreds of hours of doctors’ time per week; time that can be put back into better patient care.”
Other RFID possibilities will include extending the system to other sites, as well as to other assets such as drugs, porters, and even the patients themselves. Further ideas under consideration include tagging new-born babies for security; while in intensive care the programmable buttons on the tag could be used to raise an alarm if a clinician needs help at the bedside.
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- RFID asset tagging solution