Shorter stays in hospitals are better for patients, reducing the risks of catching infections and mental deconditioning. A pioneering new system has helped to reduced long term stays (21 days or more) by 36% at one trust, and this innovation is now being adopted by other trusts across the country.
Improving the discharge pathway is beneficial for patients, and also improves hospital flow and maximises availability of beds for people requiring elective care, enabling them to more effectively recover against the elective backlog. Despite this, nearly 350,000 patients spend more than three weeks in acute hospitals each year (Reducing length of stay (england.nhs.uk), Quick guide to supporting patients choices (nhs.uk)).
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, recognising the dual benefits of making improvements to the discharge pathway, has built a new system that tracks all admitted patients and the tasks and blockages relating to their discharge in real-time through their hospital journey. The system is helping ensure that patients who no longer need to be in hospital can go home, or into appropriate community services with relevant support, as quickly as possible.
The Optimised Patient Tracking and Intelligent Choices Application (OPTICA) system provides clear visibility of all tasks required within the discharge process, and by connecting directly to patient information systems, it clearly maps patient journeys from being admitted to hospital to when they no longer need to be in hospital and can be discharged safely.
When a patient is ready to leave hospital there is often a delay to being discharged as the formal steps required for this, such as issuing a discharge letter or medications, have not been completed. OPTICA makes these outstanding tasks visible to the NHS and social care teams so avoidable delayed discharges are kept to an absolute minimum.
Previously, the Trust managed this through an inefficient, time-intensive manual process, updating and securely sharing spreadsheets among its own colleagues and with social care providers. This information quickly became out of date resulting in inefficient use of clinical and management time and potentially avoidable delayed discharges.
Since implementing OPTICA, the trust has reduced its number of long stays (21 days or more) by 36%, despite having more patients being admitted to the hospital (7.7% increase).
In addition, the system has freed up around 9.5 hours of clinical staff time each week which was previously used completing unnecessary administrative tasks, such as back-and-forth communications to understand where a delay was occurring.
Following the success at the trust, NHS England has provided funding for an additional 15 Trusts by the end of the 2023, ensuring patients are discharged from hospital faster and into the right care setting while freeing up much-needed beds to support elective recovery and easing pressures on urgent and emergency care.
Stacey Rutter, Clinical Care Coordinator at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “OPTICA has made a huge difference to the way we manage our discharge process which has improved the experience for our patients. From a clinical perspective, it gives us greater confidence in understanding what’s happening in the hospital, who’s in the hospital and where are they in their discharge journey.”