A five year collaboration between higher education and a small Somerset software company has led to a new system for keeping track of hospital patients and ensuring that beds are full.
Tim King, managing director of Perihelion Software Ltd, told a technology transfer symposium at the Royal Society of Edinburgh that academics helped bridge the knowledge gap between users and producers in a project which has created a database now used by St Thomas' and Guy's Hospital Trust in London and a consortium of 18 Scottish hospital trusts.
Hospitals generally have centralised computer records of patients, with nurses filling in forms when patients are discharged. Processing these forms means that information on bed availability can be out of date or inaccurate.
Malcolm Atkinson, professor of computing science at Glasgow University, and a key academic collaborator in the project, said: "We moved the data to where the patient was, because the patient could only be in one place at a time. It's incredibly labour-saving and error-saving.'' Patients' details are recorded by administrators on admission, but thereafter, ward nurses update the information.
They have a screen image representing the beds in the ward, and when a patient goes to theatre, physiotherapy, intensive care, or is discharged, the nurse simply drags the icon to the box for the appropriate location, with the details immediately recorded on the hospital database.
Colour coding also reveals which consultant is responsible for each patient. "We're asking nurses who are very busy to do more, and therefore we had to make the software very easy to understand,'' said Dr King.
Ultimately, said Professor Atkinson, the hope was that the system would expand to include GPs' surgeries, with patients' details able to be called up immediately they were admitted to hospital.