Can Healthcare Engineering be digitally driven?

Digital Pioneer Fellow, Matthew Birchmore, is a Medical Equipment Engineer at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. In this blog he talks about the possibilities of digital in healthcare engineering and how he spent his time on the Digital Pioneer Fellowship programme implementing a digital solution to improve the way engineers can record data.

Digital is the future. The pen may well be mightier than the sword, but does the Bit have one-up on the Bic?

From the power-packed phones in people’s pockets, through to a virally vindicated virtual video visit, all the way up to Big Data. It’s difficult to ignore the feeling that if it can’t be done digitally, it simply can’t be done.

So why would an engineering workforce that you’d expect to be as tech-savvy as a teenage internet sensation, still be working from memory, recording in ink and then collating on a computer when they perform their most critical of functions?

Validation, validation, validation

Key to Healthcare is validation. Validation of training, validation of methods, techniques and most importantly, in my world of work, validation of tools.

The Medical Equipment Management Service at Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust is responsible for the repair and maintenance of nearly 80,000 pieces of medical equipment used in almost every diagnosis, therapy and procedure right across the trust. 

When all is well these instruments are taken for granted; diligently scanning, measuring, monitoring, infusing, but on a rolling cycle, just like all of us, they need a little TLC and that’s when you’ll get a visit from Matt.

I’ll have a list of all the instruments our records believe your department owns and ask if I can spend a bit of time with each, ensuring it’s accuracy (we wouldn’t want a scale to add a few extra kilos now, would we!) and electrically safe.

However current practise is to attend with a note pad and pen, try to recall tests from memory for the myriad of equipment we may potentially see, then spend hours when we return to base typing what results we’ve gathered into a Word document to attach in a database. 

Very little flow, heavy on the admin and possibly not quite the level of assurance one would aspire to.

Finding Flow

But digital is the future. Imagine visiting each piece of equipment and it having a pre-approved on-line template based on the equipment type, consistently prompting the engineer to perform all the necessary tests (in the appropriate order) whilst detailing as they go and generating the formal record for the device before they event return to their bench. There’d even be an option to add common spares issued and reference test equipment used without opening separate windows and typing in several lines of text.
Hello flow, hello quality, hello integrity.

Implementing a digital solution

Challenges need answering. I spent my time on the Fellowship on the DigitalHealth.London Digital Pioneer Fellowship expanding a solution within our existing Medical Equipment Database to allow engineers to record results, populate fields and create records as they perform their duties. 

Time and again, throughout presentations from some seriously interesting people, I was reminded that digital change has a resoundingly human element to it.

Being provided with access to an experienced change management mentor taught me not to approach implementation as the ‘big-bang’ I otherwise would have but to steadily engage with targeted areas, creating early adopters and quantifying benefits to build a case for an expanded roll-out. This advice was invaluable, not least as it offered an opportunity for some early stage debugging.

Having been exposed to some negotiation techniques we secured laptops to use the feature from IT in near record-setting pace at a time of global shortage. 

An introduced to Agile methodology highlighted the need for user-feedback with every modification and revision issue, ensuring the next modification and revision was what was needed and not simply what I thought was wanted.

So What?

At the end of the year, whilst the project hasn’t reached full maturity it is showing benefits both in accuracy and time saving, and importantly has been adopted and owned by its users.

The future is coming. One conversation and one line of code at a time.

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