Running a fast-paced hospital trust that serves a local population of more than 750,000 people is no small task.
In fact, it involves considerable planning as well as the ability to change direction at any given moment depending on need, or the scale of any event.
East Kent Hospitals has three Operational Control Centres - at Canterbury, Ashford and Margate – charged with this task.
And thanks to technology and working closely with their IT and Information teams they now have a real time digital device that gives updates of all hospital sites.
Nicknamed “Smarties”, it helps managers track patient flows so they can see how many patients are waiting in the trust’s Accident & Emergency Departments, how long they’ve been waiting, how many available beds there are across all their hospitals and other key performance indicators.
All of the numbers are colour coded to indicate severity, which give users an instantant view of challenging areas.
It also links through to patient lists, which shows details of each patient and can be viewed on a secure server or app on a phone, tablet, PC and is widely used by teams across the hospitals.
Smarties allows an at a glance update of how all departments are performing and enables managers to drill down into areas that may be a cause for concern.
Richard Ewins, Head of Information Development & Data Architecture, explains why the program – called OCC but dubbed Smarties by staff - is so useful.
He said: “This shows real time information from our clinical departments and wards across all of our sites spread across East Kent.
“It shows where things are running well and where – due to an unforeseen circumstance – departments are having difficulty.
“So, if you notice that an A&E department is under pressure and is extremely busy then managers can look and drill down into the cause.
“It could, for example, be that several incidents have happened in that area and if that is the case we could divert ambulances to another hospital or trust.
“This is all about ensuring our managers and clinicians can run their services as smoothly as possible and that is what IT should be used for in a hospital.”
Richard said he started working in an Information and data orientated area part way through his career.
He added: “I didn’t take computer science or maths, I actually took a degree in geography and moved around several times doing different types of work for organisations before coming to East Kent Hospitals.
“When I first started my role as an information analyst I looked at some of the challenges within the organisation at the time, and thought I can help to fix that.
“My role involves marrying up what software programmers can do with the data and skills available to achieve what clinicians need to make their work easier.
“We will meet with clinicians and ask what they need to help them, we then look at the art of the possible and work with them to achieve something that will really make their job much more manageable.
“It’s about cutting down on laborious process like paper work, or getting decision makers real-time information so there is no delay.
“It’s a great role as you’re really able to be innovative and creative. And you don’t need to be a computer programmer or have a post graduate degree in maths.
“We need people who have common sense, are pragmatic and able to solve puzzles. I would say to people who don’t think they have the qualifications for roles like mine to have a look.
“The thing about technology now is that there are roles being created that you probably don’t know exist. And you don’t need to be a computer expert to go for them.”
Richard said the “Smarties” system was the first tranche of developing real-time trust-wide information logging across East Kent and now every bed is viewed on an electronic interactive white board.
They are called this because traditionally white boards were used, or a doctor or nurse would print off lots of paper before walking around the wards to see patients.
But now across all the trust’s 60 plus wards there is a Smart TV screen with real-time information about patients.
It includes their discharge plan, any patient safety concerns, whether tests are due and other details as well.
And, as the white boards are available on an App or online as well, other staff will soon be able to see a truncated version – with personal details of patients taken out.
These will help non-clinical staff, for example, know when beds are free, which means technical teams can go and check equipment and fix issues as soon as beds are empty while other staff will know when a bed is ready for them to prepare for the next patient.
Richard said: “Technology for us is all about making things easier and both our white boards and Smarties developments show a real strong partnership between IT staff and clinicians across our hospital trust.
“If people want to use their skills to help others in a really caring environment then they should really look at what roles are available in the NHS including at East Kent Hospitals.”