How Scanning Can Improve Patient Safety in Healthcare

By Graeme Woodcock, Manager Healthcare UK and Northern Europe, Scandit

Within the UK healthcare system, there is a drive to improve patient safety and prevent avoidable errors from occurring. However, this commitment to do no harm can sometimes be overlooked.

In fact, the Care Quality Commission’s chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Ted Baker, has admitted that the NHS needs a culture change, claiming: “…the complexity of the current patient safety system makes it difficult for staff to ensure that safety is an integral part of everything they do.” This was further highlighted in Julia Cumberlege’s Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, which investigated the response of England’s healthcare system to patients’ reports of harm from drugs and medical devices.

Patient safety is fundamental to delivering quality essential health services. Integral to ensuring the successful implementation of patient safety strategies are: skilled health care professionals, data to drive safety improvements and building a system of accountability and compliance.

An agenda for change – and a tool to support it

In August 2020, the Cumberlege review panel concluded that there is a reluctance within the NHS to collect evidence on potential harms, and a lack of coordination that would allow clinicians and agencies to interpret and act on information. This is partially due to a culture where staff can be reticent to voice their concerns, for fear of being blamed for shortcomings. The report reflects this, stating patients felt their clinician would be reluctant to acknowledge where things had gone wrong.

The report acknowledged that greater detail & knowledge of what drugs and implants are being used on a patient and when, is crucial in providing greater accountability. It also recommended creating a central patient-identifiable database collecting key details of all devices implanted during surgical procedures. A key tool to support this approach is barcode scanning technology, such as Scandit’s mobile computer vision powered software, which offers a transparent and impartial record-keeping and audit process.

Driving compliance and accountability

medical hospital hallway

As the Cumberlege review highlights, a key part of patient safety is stock management in theatre i.e. knowing what device has been implanted into which patient, and by which surgeon, or tracking the different medicines involved and administered. This can then be linked to specifically created nationwide registers to research and audit outcomes in terms of both the device safety and patient health.

Given the fragmented nature of the NHS, information-sharing typically only happens at a county level. To help meet patients demands more effectively, NHS Digital is improving the existing ‘NHS Spine’; a digital central point that allows for the exchange of information across local and national NHS systems such as the Electronic Prescription Service, Summary Care Records (SCRs) and the e-referral service (e-RS).

Creating a national database of surgical devices associated with patients and built in an Open Source standard is a great way to level up this process. The Department of Health’s Scan4Safety programme makes better use of barcodes to improve supply chain and streamline operational efficiencies such as easily tracking each patient throughout their hospital treatment. This is certainly a step in the right direction for efficient workflows, but also to achieve greater accountability for patient safety.

Building an audit trail with barcode scanning

Healthcare Patient Identification

The barcodes attached to hospital patients’ wristbands are a legal requirement and a vital source of information to optimise patient centred care. Creating an audit trail of each patient’s stay and care episodes will help drive patient safety and introduce greater accountability. It can also deliver additional benefits, like automating processes around patient safety.

For example, a patient’s barcode is scanned before a procedure. All equipment then used for the procedure – including implantable medical devices – is scanned before use and recorded against that patient. The location in which a procedure takes place also has a barcode which is scanned, and, at some NHS trusts, staff have barcodes on their badges. This makes it possible to know which members of the team were involved in which procedures. The barcode supports auditing and reporting while not getting in the way of clinical procedure and safety.

Seeing the bigger picture

Trusts are thinking about how initiatives, such as Scan4Safety, can be used to improve clinical safety but also deliver wider benefits when delivering services to patients. Routine observations, such as blood pressure, temperature, heart rates and pain scores are regularly collected and provide early warning signs of potential dangers. It can alert clinicians to take quick action if a patient starts to deteriorate, which makes it possible to prevent errors before they occur.

Looking ahead to the future of healthcare

With the use of barcodes evolving and a growing focus on reducing patient risk, the days of manually documenting critical patient-care workflows are coming to an end. More flexibility can be leveraged by healthcare providers removing tethered computers on wheels that use dedicated USB scanners with fully mobile app-based workflows to capture and record digital information.

The rise of mobile applications and advances in mobile computer-vision technology mean that smart devices such as smartphones, tablets, and wearables can be used to scan and capture barcodes in a faster, more flexible and more reliable manner.

Scandit mobile computer vision software brings unrivaled scanning performance to any app on any smart device, turning it into a powerful data-capture tool. Watch it in action in across various healthcare workflows:

In the hands of healthcare professionals, these smart devices offer clear, quantifiable advantages to the execution of healthcare workflows. This is creating an opportunity to digitise existing healthcare processes to ensure accuracy and portability, making patient care safer and improving outcomes across the board.

As the Cumberlege review has shown us, having such an understanding is important to offering the safest, most effective care to patients – and being able to act quickly when something goes wrong.

Mobile scanning for better healthcare

If you want to find out more about how scanning-enabled smart devices can Improve patient safety, reduce human error and inject speed and accuracy into regular workflows, get in touch.