Manchester Royal Infirmary, which started piloting the system in a medical assessment ward and a general medical ward last week, hopes it will also improve patient safety and reduce lengths of stay by preventing patients being admitted to ICU unnecessarily.
Nurses enter clinical observations for each patient, including blood pressure or oxygen saturation levels, into a hand-held computer that monitors the details against an early warning score system.
Computers that grade symptoms are already in use in a small number of hospitals in the country.
However, in Manchester, if the score rises against what is considered a normal reading, an alarm automatically calls the appropriate member of staff. This could be a nurse, junior doctor or consultant.
If they fail to respond, the next person up the chain is automatically contacted. The alert continues until the machine has received a new series of observations and is satisfied that the condition has been addressed by a clinician.
Those involved in the project believe that early identification of a deteriorating condition, combined with the graded alert system, could reduce the length of stay for some patients by up to four days.
Sarah Ingleby, the hospital’s senior sister and clinical care outreach coordinator, said: ‘Nurses were worried at first, because they thought it was extra work, but very quickly they have said they like it because it gets the doctor there directly.
‘Previously, they would have had to spend time chasing the doctor to arrive and that time is time away from the patient. It also helps to reduce inaccuracy in observations, because there are times when the early warning scores can be miscalculated,’ she added.
But she said this would not replace clinical judgement.