Hand-held computers replacing patient charts at Northampton General Hospital to alert staff to patients in danger

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A new hand-held computer has been introduced at Northampton General Hospital to help quickly alert nurses to deteriorating patinets.

The system, called VitalPac, monitors and analyses patients’ vital signs and enables staff to automatically summon timely and appropriate help if a patient deteriorates, and removes the need for paper-based monitoring charts.

Fiona Barnes, NGH deputy director of nursing, said: “Implementing this system will improve patient safety and patient outcomes as we will become better at recognising deteriorating patients.

“The staff are excited about using the new technology. We will be able to observe patients’ vital signs more quickly than we do at the moment.”

VitalPac enables nurses to record seven routine observations - including temperature, pulse and blood pressure - and removes the need for a paper chart.

The system’s software analyses the patient’s readings using a set of algorithms, and doctors and other senior staff receive an urgent alert if they dip below a safe level.

The new system will be used from the patient’s admission to hospital and throughout their stay, replacing the traditional paper chart at the end of each bed.

Currently nurses write down patient observations, allocating a point score for each area before calculating an overall total.

NGH said the new technology virtually eliminates the possibility of human error in both calculating scores and making a judgement call about a patient’s condition. Studies indicate that the error rate in calculations is reduced three-fold.

All readings are automatically sent to a central hospital server via a wireless network. Clinicians can review VitalPac data from anywhere in the hospital on tablet PCs, PDAs or any PC connected to the hospital intranet.

NGH has also integrated VitalPac with its pathology and radiology systems and intends to link it to its ‘ward workspace’ system.

This shows all patient activity within a pictorial layout of the ward, enabling staff to click through to each patient’s charts, and quickly check on deteriorating early warning scores.

Mrs Barnes said: “Releasing our nursing staff from time-consuming administrative tasks will enable them to focus on their most important role of providing high quality patient care.

“Other trusts have found that the system has helped to reduce length of stay and also increase efficiency.”

The hospital’s IT department managed to secure almost £370k in additional funding for the project from NHS England’s ‘Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards’ technology fund.

Joana Queiroz, an Emergency Assessment Unit staff nurse, (pictured centre with nurse Shannon O’Herlihy and and matron Jason King) said: “We have been using the system here for about three weeks now and it does seem quicker. Instead of having to go to each bed to check patient’s notes, we have all the information in one hand. It’s a great idea.”