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Portering Services: The Key to Unlocking Patient Flow Efficiencies

Porters are one of the often-unrecognised champions that keep a hospital running. They are as fundamental to a patient’s care as our fleet drivers are to our retail supply chains. All too often, however, Trusts are managing their portering – or transport tracking – services using manual methods like pen and paper or phone calls. At best ‘digitisation’ of transport services might include radios or pagers, leaving the process of requesting and allocating porters frustrating and inefficient.

As NHS organisations start on their digitalisation journey, portering is an obvious place to improve patient flow and unlock capacity. Dan Wadsworth, Account and Optimisation Executive with patient flow experts, TeleTracking, outlines that automating portering services and adding dispatch logic is both easy to implement and receives immediate buy-in. Moreover, when evidence suggests that a single Trust can unlock as much as 60% capacity, with a positive impact on operational efficiency, staff satisfaction and patient outcomes, portering can be a “quick win” for Trusts as a phase I to digital adoption.

The Demand for Digital Transformation in Transport Services

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the NHS’ ways of working by creating a sense of urgency for organisations to adopt more efficient and digitally backed approaches to care delivery and capacity management. Whilst the pace of digital adoption throughout the NHS has increased significantly over the past two years, the digital maturity of organisations across the UK remains varied. Some Trusts have virtually eradicated paper-based approaches whilst others are still struggling to successfully implement and sustain digital approaches, relying heavily on manual processes.

For NHS staff, the ever-lengthening waiting lists and an acknowledged risk of burnout have only heightened the demand for improved ways of working, ensuring both staff wellbeing and the optimal provision of care for patients. Within the recently published ‘What Good Looks Like’ framework for measuring digital transformation from NHSX, two of the seven strands focus on just this point.

“Supported people: the workforce is digitally literate and able to work optimally with data and technology.”

“Improve care: Ensure that organisations employ decision support and other tools to help follow best practice and eliminate quality variation across the entire care pathway”

When it is estimated that one Integrated Care System (ICS) may have as many as 400+ “lost” beds in one day alone, embracing digital solutions becomes critical to improving inefficiencies and returning clinical time back to care. Creating a digitally literate workforce and operating model for Trusts will be crucial to address the increased demand on care services and on the NHS’s workforce. *

Outdated Processes in a Modern Era

In healthcare, it is known that portering services have a significant opportunity to become more efficient. In most cases, clinicians have to log requests by phone – often to a single number that has to be manned 24/7; requests are then written down on paper and radioed or paged out with little or no prioritisation. With no visibility to where porters are on the hospital estate or who is available, the allocation of these requests is often down to whoever accepts the job first.

Meanwhile, clinicians have little to no visibility of where their request sits in the queue, creating a backlog in care delivery as patients wait for the care they need. Digital transformation, when applied to portering services, represents a significant opportunity for automated efficiencies and shared visibility to key patient flow stakeholders.

Unlocking Capacity through Automation

Replacing traditional manual processes with ‘dispatcher-less’ mobile software allows clinicians to request jobs directly into the system, negating the needs for repeated phone calls and freeing up clinical time to care. With real-time location services (RTLS) and built-in dispatch logic, job requests can be prioritised based upon urgency and allocated to the best porter based on proximity, adding both fairness and efficiency, whilst unlocking capacity.

In addition, clinicians can set up ‘appointment jobs’ in advance within the system, whereby a department such as Imaging or Radiology can request a porter every 15 minutes, for example, and ensure patient lists are optimally managed.

Moreover, the ability to add ‘transport requirements’ to requests where these are needed means that porters can be fully prepared for each job and arrive with the appropriate resources needed to complete the job on the first time, increasing quality and consistency of service.

Porters can also report a delay on a job along with a delay code, if, for example, the patient is not ready to be moved. These delay codes provide additional shared insight and the ability to further optimise the workflow, unlocking valuable, but hidden, minutes in the system.

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust is one NHS organisation who embarked on their portering improvement plan in 2013 as part of a wider Trust Digitalisation Strategy. The aim was to improve the match of portering supply to demand, and increase efficiency, accountability and visibility. Within a matter of months since going live with its RTLS-enabled automation solution, The Christie had increased the productivity of its portering service by 60-65% across its 200-bed facility. The Trust was also able to allocate supply to match demand through intelligent, real-time analytics of completed jobs. The result was a 25% and 20% increase in portering resource dedicated to radiology and pharmacy respectively.

Sean Boulton, Operational Services Manager, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, comments:

“Equipping our porters with an application that was also able to automate the dispatch logic has transformed the service. We now have 24/7, real-time visibility of portering activity and have been able to unlock a huge amount of capacity within the existing team. In addition, it’s enabled us to make decisions with real operational insight on where the demand is most needed. It has improved efficiency, and reduced frustration and stress amongst both clinical and portering staff.”

Improving Patient Flow Starts with Portering 

With the efficiencies gained from digitising portering, the next step is for Trusts to automate the requests for and allocation of bed cleaning for domestic teams, freeing up valuable time for nursing staff.

From there, it becomes easy to extend the use of the RTLS technology with RFID tags to provide a real-time picture of a Trust’s entire bed estate, including: beds that are occupied; have a patient pending discharge; are in the process of being cleaned; and beds that are ‘clean’ and can be allocated to a patient. With a fully operational and shared view of the bed estate, finding those “lost” beds becomes easier, helping to ensure optimal patient flow throughout the hospital.

Digital transformation is a crucial vehicle to support hospitals in delivering quality care. When implemented alongside change management best practices, technology can support staff in ensuring the right patient gets the right care, at the right time, with the right resources. This “real-time” approach to delivering care unlocks a vast amount of existing capacity within systems.

Why not start your patient flow digitisation journey today?

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