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OPINION

Switched onto the process

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Effective IT system procurement is about knowing what you need and the right supplier, says Julia Ball

When I walk through the doors of a supermarket, I usually have a good idea of what I want to buy. When NHS trusts are looking to procure an IT system however, they will often only have a basic knowledge of their specific requirements.

This can lead to suppliers misinterpreting goals or encouraging implementation of IT software and products that do not meet a trust’s needs. Precious taxpayer money can be wasted and everyone loses out, includingthe clinical staff, managers, IT suppliers and, most importantly, the patients.

Some of the most rewarding IT projects I have been involved with in my role - as assistant director of nursing at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust - concerned improving clinical and medical handovers. We recognised that digitising our core nursing documentation and providing up-to-date, accurate patient information to healthcare staff could reduce transfer times and speed up discharges.

When we asked staff what could make their working lives easier, technology was at the top of their list. Nurses said they wanted systems that reduced repetitive data entry and supported their dayto- day schedule. They said it was taking too long to log on to different systems to complete tasks like discharges and transfer letters, which was a real source of frustration on the wards.

To overcome these challenges we needed intuitive software that shared data between different information systems and was unique to our specifi c requirements. Another consideration was the ability to use mobile devices: more convenient than logging onto main PC-based systems, and allowing Sir Bruce Keogh’s new clinical standards around seven-day working to be met.

When you are responsible for a major IT project and entering new territory, it comes with some sleepless nights. You continuously ask yourself: will the IT infrastructure support the software? Will staff find the mobile devices convenient and accessible? Are there security risks we have failed to cover? The excitement of recognising that changed processes can improve patient outcomes is coupled with extreme anxiety about lettingthe clinical teams down - it can be your biggest fear.

It is therefore very reassuring when you have an IT supplier who can speak the specialised ‘clinical language’ of the NHS - it instils confidence and credibility that they can deliver. For the clinical and medical handover projects, we opted to work with a mobile technology software supplier called Nervecentre which has an in-house team, including qualified nurses, with vast NHS experience. It grasped our trust’s goals, and was aware of the many pressures our busy hospitals face.

We looked for a partnership approach with our supplier for technology deployments. The wealth of NHS experience available to us was invaluable, particularly when we were introduced to other trusts and managers who have learnt from past challenges and come through the other side. We were actively encouraged to visit another trust which had deployed the same technology, ask questions and see how we could take the softwareforward for our trust.

It was crucial that we knew what we wanted to achieve from each project. There were things we learnt along the way that meant being flexible in our approach. We found that speaking to staff gave us a clear understanding of what they needed clinically but also gave us ideas about how to use information for more efficient working.

Healthcare and IT are very complex areas. Implementing the right IT system that meets an organisation’s goals will only be realised if it is fully aware of its requirements and by partnering with the right technology supplier.


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