How modernising data capture is bringing 21st century visibility to the NHS by Jeremy Straker of Scandit



The NHS, and the services it provides, relies on its ability to collect and share accurate, situational, and verifiable data. Much more than a driver of efficiency, cost control and regulatory compliance, it is critical to patient safety and the “do-no-harm” principles of the medical profession.

Consumable assets like drugs and medical devices need to be carefully managed for traceability so they can be identified and the right patients contacted if a product is reviewed or recalled. This need for traceability has been exacerbated with the scale of ongoing COVID-19 testing and vaccination distribution.

The Cumberledge Review published last year, provided recommendations on specific data capture measures that could transform patient safety throughout the NHS, in addition to delivering operational efficiencies.  Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is an early adopter, having already implemented many data capture measures into the healthcare environment through its involvement in the Scan4Safety initiative, which uses barcode scanning technology to enable better patient care, improved clinical productivity and supply chain efficiency.

Chief Executive of the Trust, Julian Hartley, has commented that  Scan4Safety is a pioneering initiative to bring 21st-century data standards to our everyday work in the NHS,” adding that it had “shown improvements in how we track patients and equipment around our seven hospitals, and, crucially, freed up staff time so they can spend more focusing on patient care. Initiatives such as Scan4Safety are crucial for becoming an efficient, modern teaching hospital.” 

As examples like this illustrate, data capture and data standards need to be modernised in all Trusts.

The evolution of data capture 

Data capture has always been fundamental to the NHS. Now, the focus is on improving data sets by making data capture easier, faster, and quicker. While barcodes and alphanumeric codes have been ubiquitous in pretty much all aspects of healthcare, many healthcare providers are now focused on the use of smart mobile devices to streamline and improve the efficiency of patient management, enhance patient safety and reduce administration. With the right data capture software, inexpensive smartphones can be transformed into robust barcode scanners—creating fast, accurate and cost-effective patient management workflows. Equipping smart devices with this scanning functionality brings a new level of convenience, accuracy and flexibility – driving better outcomes.

Better asset management

With the evolution of mobile software technology, the NHS no longer needs to invest millions in specialist devices for different tasks but instead can make the most of one asset – the smart device. Alongside consumable assets, there are a variety of fixed assets like wheelchairs, beds and ECG (electrocardiograph) monitors which need to be tracked within hospitals delivering patient care.

By tracking these assets and gathering information, it is possible for hospitals to improve efficiency and workflow management.  For example, a hospital can scan a barcode on a patient’s wristband and tell what bed they are assigned to, or what clinic or operating theatre they are in.  Information like this can be updated in real-time to an electronic whiteboard so nurses have an accurate picture of which patients are in what locations, undergoing what treatment. When a patient is discharged, a staff member can be immediately notified that a bed needs cleaning, and the matron will also know straight away how many beds are available and pending cleaning, enabling better admissions and resource management. 

The wider healthcare setting

Investment in barcode scanning technology can be used in many other activities beyond the hospital. There is a vast workforce involved in delivering all aspects of healthcare in the community, where barcode scanning is being extended, including COVID-19 testing, domiciliary care, mental health, and social care.

Mobile computer vision-powered barcode scanning apps can support truly patient-centric care by helping workers collect and share asset information related to the patient outside the hospital. Healthcare employees can instantly access critical information such as medication, patient histories, lab workups or inventory when they need it. This can reduce errors and time lags, thereby increasing the quality of care and patient safety. 

In the healthcare sector, budgets are tight and making an investment count is a priority. But this type of software smart device innovation can be achieved at a low cost and at significantly less expense than relying on hardware.

Modernising barcodes to deliver a wider digital agenda  

Within the NHS, there are emerging pockets of excellence driven by a wider digital agenda. Functional teaching hospitals have developed strong capabilities and invested in innovative technology. However, there are still many hospitals trying to get by without any in house skills to deliver digital initiatives. Standardising barcoding and the way that Trusts collect information is part of the solution to this problem across most aspects of supply chain improvement – from improving clinical safety to reducing waste in terms of both time and materials.

Looking at the challenge more holistically and carefully considering how the device you may already be using for scanning can be used for multiple operational processes, not only helps reduce cost, but also increases efficiency and supports an all-around better patient experience.


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