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How one care provider is embedding technology to make services more efficient

Rowan Procter on digital technology and launching her trust's new instant-communications app

NHS England digital pioneer is replacing its bleep system with an instant-communications app for staff


Picture: iStock

Whether using maps on our phones to get from A to B or checking the weather forecast weeks in advance, we now use digital technology every day to help plan and make our lives easier.

The NHS is making great strides in its use of digital technology too. The NHS App, for example, provides a simple and secure way for people to access a range of care services on their smartphone or tablet, and some GPs and hospital trusts, our own included, are exploring how they can use technology to consult with patients digitally to save them having to travel unnecessarily.

Technological innovation

At West Suffolk, we recognise the importance of digital and technological innovation, and see that it makes people’s lives easier and can be a driver to improve patient safety.

Our electronic patient care record reduces the risk of lost paperwork, and helps put an end to illegible handwriting. We also have an app that allows us to undertake ward audits digitally and to share photos and feedback immediately with ward managers.

We have machines that measure and record a patient’s blood pressure, temperature, oxygen saturation, pulse and every other parameter to enable immediate calculation of an early warning score and to allow us to identify acutely unwell patients early. By scanning a barcode on the patient’s wristband, these readings are then placed directly into the patient’s electronic care record. This reduces the risk of human error and saves time that would have been spent inputting data manually. 

Digital ambitions

At West Suffolk, we have the added benefit of being chosen as an NHS England global digital exemplar trust. We are proud of this and it gives us licence to push on with our digital ambitions. It doesn’t make us immune to the challenges that the rest of the NHS can face when it comes to rolling out new technology, but we know we can find a way to overcome them.

We’ve been lucky that our technology ambitions have been supported and embraced by staff, even when it’s meant major changes in process and how we ask them to do their jobs.

We are implementing an instant-communications app that will replace our non-emergency bleeps; no more sending a bleep and waiting by the phone for the call to be returned.

We have piloted the app and it has saved our nurses 21 minutes a shift. That’s a pretty huge number if we scale it up to every nurse and to every shift across a year. All this saved time goes back to our nursing teams to care for their patients.

Overcoming hurdles

There have been hurdles to overcome, some bigger than others, but we are using this opportunity to learn and work closely with the supplier to make sure that the app works effectively and safely for our staff and patients.

We were under no illusions that this instant-communications app would be as simple as switching off a bleep system and switching on a mobile communications tool; it is about developing our operational processes across the trust.

The bumps along the road haven’t deterred us, but simply highlighted that having the right infrastructure in place is vital to embedding technology and gaining the maximum benefit from it

Our go-live is soon and if we get it right, the app will make a huge difference in how efficient we are and the care we give, from discharges to patient reviews and dispensing medication. 

The digital technology we are using already has made huge improvements to how we work and deliver care. I’m excited to add another string to that bow.

Further information


Rowan Procter is executive chief nurse at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

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