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More NHS hospitals see benefits in tracking technology

University College London and the Countess of Chester have become the latest hospitals to trial the innovative TeleTracking system, which uses fitbit-style bracelets and badges to track beds, staff and patients.

The first NHS hospital to use the TeleTracking technology was the Royal Wolverhampton, which introduced the patient flow module in April 2015. Now the trial is being rolled out to additional sites, with five NHS providers scheduled to participate. Initial feedback has been very positive and, depending on the final results of the trial, the technology could be installed nationally.

So, how does it work? The real-time technology detects electronic badges and bracelets attached to patients, equipment and all staff, including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists, and porters. From a command centre that's a bit like air traffic control, staff can monitor bed status, which patients need to be allocated to a bed, where specific types of equipment are and the nearest housekeeping or portering staff available to clean a bed or help transport a patient.

When a patient is discharged, their wristband is removed and dropped into a smart box, which automatically sends a message to the cleaning team, telling them that the bed is vacant and ready to be prepared for another patient.

The technology was developed in the USA and a survey in 2012 revealed that 80% of the country's top hospitals were using it to manage their capacity and patient flow. The Klas Patient Flow 2017 report named TeleTracking as one of the two best software providers because of their system's ability to increase capacity and cut down on patient waiting times.

Trusts using the technology have seen significant improvements in bed management, with the Royal Wolverhampton reporting that patients are three times more likely to be directed to a bed appropriate to their ongoing needs. It can also help trusts reduce the number of breaches of the four-hour A&E treat, admit or discharge target.

There are also major benefits in terms of the delivery of care. The technology helps free up nurses to concentrate on patient care, as well as improving efficiency in allied health services such as physiotherapy. Ward staff can make physiotherapy referrals on the system and the physiotherapist will print off the work list for the day, showing all patients by ward areas.

The Countess of Chester Hospital has also reported encouraging signs from the trial. Initial findings show the time from a patient being discharged to their bed being ready for a new patient has been reduced from four hours to under two and a half hours.

"A key part of NHS Improvement's role is to support NHS trusts in developing new ways of working to improve patient care and meet rising demand," said Adam Sewell-Jones, the organisation's Director of Improvement. "TeleTracking is one example of that ambition. This new technology enables staff to see real time data on beds available within the hospital, enabling patients to be allocated to the most appropriate ward first time, ensuring they receive care from a medical and nursing team who are experts in their particular condition."
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