Electronic system of taking patients’ observations will allow staff at Lister Hospital to improve care

Quicker and more reliable: Tracy Maryann, who is clinical project manager for the new system, record

Quicker and more reliable: Tracy Maryann, who is clinical project manager for the new system, records patient Lee Gowers observations electronically. - Credit: Archant

Changing a culture of filling out forms that stretches back to the birth of the NHS was never going to be easy.

Registered nurse Emma-Louise Kent, junior doctor Joesph Newman, clinical project manager Tracy Marya

Registered nurse Emma-Louise Kent, junior doctor Joesph Newman, clinical project manager Tracy Maryann and consultant renal physician Suresh Mathavakkannan. - Credit: Archant

But change is a constant and staff at Lister Hospital in Stevenage are welcoming the switch from recording patients’ observations on paper to a faster and more efficient electronic system.

The advantages of the new high-tech system were spelled out after an inquest hearing earlier this year made it clear how the old-fashioned way of doing things could create crucial gaps in care if information wasn’t passed on in the right way.

A coroner ruled that staff failed to care properly for a 68-year-old woman who died at the hospital last February.

Hospital chiefs promised that the switch would make record-taking more seamless, and ensure the system is more reliable – as well as saving time.

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Head of nursing for the East and North Herts NHS Trust, Angela Thompson, said: “It is a big change to go from paper to electronic, especially for some nurses who have been using paper records for decades.

“But the old way is cumbersome and with the new system, nurses will use handheld devices to submit observations and the machine will do the rest automatically.

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“If a patient starts deteriorating it will automatically send a message to the critical outreach team to say the patient may be ill. They will then phone the ward and see what is wrong.”

The system was funded by a £750,000 grant the NHS trust – which runs the Lister – received from the Nurses Technology Fund.

It runs on open source code which Angela says means there are no expensive licences to pay or limits on the number of people who can use it.

This also means that other hospitals can use, adapt and improve the system without having to pay anything.

The NHS trust is also working with NHS England to see where else it can be used to improve patient care.

One ward is already using the system at the Coreys Mill Lane hospital and it should be rolled out across every ward over the next 18 months.

As well as monitoring patients’ observations, it will also include information about their previous admissions – something consultant renal clinician Suresh Mathavakkannan thinks is a vital step forward.

He said: “It’s very important for dialysis patients especially.

“The whole thing is a huge improvement and makes ward rounds much faster and slicker.”

Tracy Maryann is a nurse and project manager for the system who has been training ward staff how to use it.

She said: “Most people find it quite easy to use. If you’ve got a smart phone it shouldn’t be a problem.

“For the patients nothing changes, all the same observations are taken – they’re just recorded in a different way.

“It’s also good for reminding nurses when they’re due to take someone’s observations and lets them pass a patient onto a specific doctor if there is a problem.”

The system will also allow doctors to give prescriptions electronically which will speed up the discharge of people who are waiting for drugs.

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