Datacom invests in SmartWard for new health solutions unit

Technology solutions provider Datacom has taken a 20 per cent stake in Canberra-based health IT firm SmartWard as the first investment in its new healthcare solutions unit, which is being headed up by former Australian Centre for Health Innovation clinical director Keith Joe.

New Zealand-owned Datacom is better known for its service, integration and bespoke software development capabilities, but has developed a long-term strategic plan to invest in new capabilities through solutions for market segments such as health, education and local government.

Dr Joe, who plans to keep working as an emergency department doctor at Cabrini Hospital in Melbourne as well as his new role as chief medical information officer for Datacom Healthcare Solutions, said that the new healthcare solutions division would focus on patient-centric technologies, of which the investment in SmartWard is the first step.

He said that while SmartWard was mainly focused on patient safety and clinical workflow in the hospital sector, there is also potential in residential care as well.

SmartWard inventor Matt Darling said the Datacom partnership was much more a collaboration than an investment.

“The collaboration with Datacom gives that blue-chip, copper-bottomed backing to an emerging technology which is so important,” Mr Darling said.

“Hospitals, when they buy new technology, need a very high level of support, and Datacom is a very geographically distributed technical services company, so this gives the ability for us to support and train and deploy systems across the whole of Australasia.”

Mr Darling has designed SmartWard primarily as a patient safety technology that improves workflow for healthcare professionals. The system automates clinical records, and also provides decision-support, thereby increasing the time staff spend with patients.

It has undergone trials in wards at two different hospitals in Melbourne, with Deakin University research showing that it reduced the amount of time that nurses spent on documentation and freed them up to spend more time with patients.

In fact, the research showed that nurses increased the proportion of time spent at patient bedsides from 32.8 per cent to 48.1 per cent, and increased the amount of time spent interacting with patients from 7.9 per cent to 23.6 per cent.

The SmartWard system displays a schedule of patient care according to priority. Staff review and accept tasks, and are provided with treatment reminders and automated forms including best practice clinical guidelines.

Treatment is recorded at the bedside and stored in the application, and if staff are interrupted by a more urgent task, the application detects that the procedure has not been completed and reschedules the task. Records are created automatically, reducing paperwork and handover time.

One of the keys to the system is a platform of Bluetooth authentication and location services. Mr Darling said Bluetooth was chosen over other technologies such as RFID and Wi-Fi for safety reasons.

“The issue with RFID is that the charge field is conical in shape so you get a lot of blackspots,” he said. “This is safety technology in that we want to have high resolution at all times. The idea of having to deploy numerous expensive sensors is not an option we would consider.

“There are also location services capabilities that are built around Wi-Fi, but the signal strength of that is very much higher than Bluetooth. Our ethos is really around patient safety so we wanted to make sure that anything we used was very low power so it could not constitute a risk to patients or staff.”

Mr Darling and his team have spent four and a half years developing the technology in close consultation with healthcare professionals. He said it allows staff to perform in a more effective manner.

“These guys are drawn to the profession because they want to help people and when they are dragged away and only able to interact with patients for less than 10 per cent of the shift, the interactions that are left over are fleeting, transactional and frustrating. They are not able to form relationships with the patient that they really want and that are of clinical benefit. A big part of our goal in this is to increase job satisfaction and reduce stress on clinical staff.”

Mr Darling said staff had a very low opinion of systems they currently have to use, characterising them as “nested, siloed, and hierarchical.”

“What this means for people entering data is a huge amount of repetition and an enormous amount of complexity. From our point of view, what we wanted to do was to remove the complexity and that repetition.

“By knowing that the healthcare professional is with a particular patient at a particular time, we can display the exact information and support that they need at that time without them having to drill down into anything. It's what we call context.

“This is a system that puts the information you need at your fingertips. It ensures continuity so that what needs to happen in the next minute, in the next hour, in the next 24 hours or in the next week is available to the user. Unlike paper, if you walk away from the data input and display device, the system is automatically locked so not just anyone can come and read the chart. It has many features that builds patient safety, privacy and improved productivity for the user.”

While the prime goal in building the technology was patient safety and improved workflow for healthcare professionals, it also has productivity benefits that can be measured financially. A recent review by Deloitt Access Economics of the data from the clinical trials showed that SmartWard could provide significant benefits from minimising readmissions and avoiding errors.

Deloitte Access Economics estimated that the reduced length of stay would save hospitals $50,000 per bed per annum, which if delivered across a 600-bed hospital would see annual improvements of around $30 million.

“There are very significant cost savings to organisations that implement SmartWard, and this is done purely through avoiding patient harm,” Mr Darling said.

“We are not talking about changing nurse to patient ratios. We know that people are working at the limit at the moment. The Access Economics study proved one thing comprehensively, which is that the more time that healthcare professionals get to spend with patients the fewer the incidents of harm.

“That translates to something much more important than dollars and cents which is better patient outcomes, but it also does save money.”

Mr Darling said SmartWard had received feedback from clinicians who said it had improved their job satisfaction, reduced stress and allowed them to deliver clinical care of the highest possible standard.

“Now, we need to show and prove that this can work hospital-wide and that is a really key step for us,” he said.

Datacom's director of investments Mark McWilliams said SmartWard was a unique software system that is keenly focused on improving health outcomes.

“We are looking forward to combining our organisational capability with SmartWard and working in unison to rapidly apply the benefits of their solution to address the needs of healthcare providers in our region,” he said.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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