The digital reinvention of the hospital

Sophie Evans, clinician consultant of healthcare communications specialist Ascom, discusses the increasing role of technology within the NHS and how it’s inspiring a health estates evolution - transforming how hospitals look, operate, and deliver better patient care.

May 30, 2022

The history of the hospital is fascinating and vast. Its origins were in Egypt and Ancient Greece, with temples called Asclepieia, dedicated to the healer god Asclepius, providing medical advice, prognosis and healing. 

Throughout its history we’ve seen the hospital go through many evolutions. From their transportation to battlefields during times of conflict, through to the creation of the NHS, and more recently, their transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today we’re on the brink of another hospital evolution as the NHS doubles-down on its commitment of digital transformation. The hospital as we’ve all come to know it, is radically changing.

Beyond the digital front door

In England the Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, has pledged that the digital advancements gained from the pandemic will continue. Earlier this year he set out his priorities to focus on personalised care, levelling up and harnessing the power of technology breakthroughs with an ambition to make the NHS App the front door for care for 75 per cent adults. 

This digital transformation of the NHS is now well underway and influencing what the hospital of the future will become. 

Although hospitals will of course remain ‘centres for healing’, the physical barriers of care are being removed. Technology now enables patients to be treated by hospital staff in the comfort of their own home. 

During the pandemic the NHS has increased the number of virtual wards, initially to stem the spread of Covid-19. However, now it’s clear that the benefits reach far beyond infection control, with growing numbers of patients being treated outside of the hospital using remote monitoring apps, technology platforms, wearables, and medical devices. 

The technology is providing the NHS with hope that prevention, through monitoring and early intervention, rather than cure at the point of crisis is within their grasp.  

This idea of the ‘connected patient’ is changing how hospital wards can deliver care and treatment - medical devices now integrate and communicate with one another to provide clinicians with insight previously unachievable.  

Take for example the nurse call system. It’s no longer just a button for the patient to get the attention of a nurse. Instead, it now works much harder. It’s smart, with the ability to interact with other medical devices and software. It provides the nurse with a vital tool to help closely monitor a patient and can support workflow management. 

It’s technology like this that has a domino effect in the NHS and inspires a complete rethink of how wards operate and indeed, how new hospitals should be designed and built. 

It’s not just changing how patients are cared for, the technology is also influencing how clinicians can work more effectively and manage their time.
Sophie Evans
Clinical Consultant, Ascom UK

Building smarter places for care 

Through the New Hospitals Programme we will see 40 new hospitals built in England by 2030. It’s understood to be the biggest hospital building programme in a generation.

The UK Government has said that through this programme it will; “implement cutting-edge digital technologies across the NHS”, creating smart hospitals that are different in design, built with new clinical processes, management systems and infrastructure. 

In the development of these new hospitals, we can see some significant changes. 

For example, space previously needed to house paper-based patient records are disappearing as the NHS continues to drive 90 per cent of trusts in England to have electronic patient records in place by December 2023.  

And on a ward level there has been a move to single-occupant rooms to provide greater levels of privacy to patients. This alone presents clinicians with care challenges.  

With single-occupant rooms both patients and clinicians can feel disconnected. Again, the evolved nurse call system is supporting the NHS overcome that challenge, with the technology having the ability to bring nurses closer to patients. 

It can interact with all the medical devices connected to the patient – such as a ventilator or IV drip. Because of this connectivity, an alarm can be raised to alert the medical team via a handheld device, or through a smartphone iOS or Android App, if for example, a patient’s blood pressure suddenly spikes.

Where previously a nurse call system worked like an intercom between patient and clinician, now it’s about genuinely connecting the two and supporting in providing better patient outcomes.  

And it’s not just changing how patients are cared for, the technology is also influencing how clinicians can work more effectively and manage their time.

Handheld devices that allow patient data to be accessed and updated while at the bedside are transforming how clinicians work. We call this ‘point of care data access’. 

This is dramatically reducing administration time, which in turn enables more time to be dedicated to patient care. What’s more, there are no lost forms and no delay in clinical information being shared. 

The same technology can also provide another supporting role to nurses - prompting them to complete tasks, such as dispensing medication or when a patient needs to be turned to prevent pressure sores. This takes the burden away from nurses and ensures patient care is mapped. 

A constant care evolution 

It’s exciting to think that generations to come will never know anything other than a digitally enabled healthcare system. That accessing virtual wards, using remote, wearable health tracking technology and having their health insights used to improve their own, and the population’s wellbeing, will simply be the norm. 

It’s a pivotal time in the evolution of hospitals. 

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