Safer wards and safer hospitals through harnessing technology

We have a strong track record in developing and using new medical technologies to revolutionise the way we care for and treat patients – the thermometer, diagnostic ultrasound, the MRI scan, the ophthalmoscope used to examine our eyes – to name but a few.

All developed or invented by British innovators and used across the world to deliver healthcare to millions of people every day.

The NHS is good at harnessing new medical technologies and techniques but this is only half the story.

Imagine having a long term condition, one of the 3.5 million in the UK with diabetes for example, where you are in regular contact with your GP but sometimes may need treatment in hospital.  This may be because of a one-off accident, or it may be that the disease has led to complications, such as diabetic foot or sight problems.

Either way, inevitably patients find themselves having to repeat their medical history over and over again – sometimes in the same hospital – because their records can’t be found or doctors don’t have access to their records.

Or, how about being in hospital and being given the wrong drugs or treatment?  Studies show prescription errors can be present in as many as 8 per cent of hospital prescriptions.

Technology is not just about treatment techniques or procedures.  Technology is also crucial to safer, better care.

In May last year, NHS England launched the Safer Wards, Safer Hospitals Technology Fund -a pot of over £500million.  The fund will give doctors and nurses better information about patients so people get better, safer care.

The Fund was made available to all hospitals to support the move from paper-based systems for patient notes and prescriptions to integrated care records and the development of e-prescribing and e-referrals systems.  The new fund will help patients get better and safer care by giving doctors access to the right information when they need it most.

Technology helps protect patients by making sure details of their care are available to doctors and nurses at the click of a button. And it makes a patient’s journey through different parts of the NHS much safer, because their records can follow them electronically wherever they go, with doctors and nurses able to see up to date information about patients, their medications and their history at the point of care.

This means that patients, and their carers, will no longer need to keep repeating their medical history to health professionals at different stages of their care.

Better use of technology will also prevent drugs being prescribed incorrectly and, potentially, lethally because patient notes have been lost.  But most of all, patients will be able to interact with their own health record if they wish, reflecting their personal values and preferences.

Expanding the use of electronic prescribing by doctors and nurses in hospitals will help the NHS saves lives and save money.

In December, the first wave of applications to the fund was approved.  In this first wave, three sites were selected to become exemplars in digital record integration between health and social care by March 2015, with support from the Fund.

This isn’t about top-down direction or massive a NHS IT project.  Local NHS providers are free to choose the best systems for them as long as they can demonstrate that these will lead to better, safer care.

With NHS England’s aspiration for all patient records to be available by 2015, the most important things is the systems adopted must enable secure sharing of data and comply with requirements for modern, safe standards of record-keeping.

Beverley Bryant was previously Director of Digital Technology, since the publication of these blogs she has left NHS England.