Wednesday 15 April 2015

Nursing homes join forces to boost care with technology

They buy machines to reduce errors, adopt IT 'cloud' system to save space
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

At most nursing homes here, the blood pressure, pulse rate and temperature of patients are measured using multiple devices before they are manually recorded on paper, in a laborious and error-prone process.

But more homes are now turning to technology to minimise lapses and raise productivity.

Five nursing homes have banded together to buy in bulk machines that can measure various vital signs, such as oxygen levels, temperature, blood pressure and pulse rate, at one go. These readings will be transmitted automatically to a new information technology system that has been adopted by more nursing homes.

Two more nursing homes are likely to follow suit.

The five homes are buying a total of 50 machines for $300,000 altogether, with most of the cost likely to be funded by the Health Ministry.

Manpower savings for a typical home with 250 beds are estimated to be $100,000 over five years.

Previously, at Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital nursing home, nurse manager Seah Bao Juan had to record on paper residents' blood pressure or pulse rate readings.

With this method, it was easy to log the readings wrongly. Mistakes could lead to wrong medicine being prescribed, so a second nurse had to be brought in to scan the documents again.

The technological changes mean better care for residents, said Ms Seah, 32.

"Our staff are freed up to organise activities such as arts and crafts or mahjong for the residents, instead of poring over reams of paperwork," she added.

Besides Kwong Wai Shiu, nursing homes like Ling Kwang Home, St Andrew's, Peacehaven and Man Fut Tong are adopting the new machines. These are common in hospitals but have yet to be used on a large scale in nursing homes.

Other such homes have also embraced the use of technology, such as the seven that are using a pioneering $2.65 million IT system introduced by the Lien Foundation three years ago.

The seven homes, which serve about 2,000 residents, have since ditched hard-copy forms and reports in favour of an IT system that allows information to be stored in a "cloud" network. This saves space and means that medical staff can diagnose conditions and access patient data remotely.

The system is linked to the National Electronic Health Record, a database of patients' medical details shared by public healthcare providers nationwide, so that case histories of residents can be viewed easily.

The Ministry of Health has also started a similar project and hopes to implement a separate IT system for 36 nursing homes in the next two years. There are 66 nursing homes here, serving about 10,000 patients.

Peacehaven home, an early adopter of the new IT system introduced by the Lien Foundation, has seen 140 types of forms and reports go paperless and a productivity increase of 10 per cent.

"We save 30 minutes per doctor visit and 20 minutes per shift handover, and the admission process now takes a few hours instead of two days, with increased automation," said Peacehaven executive director Low Mui Lang.

Rolling out such technology improvements also prepares nursing homes for the enhanced nursing home standards which will kick in this year, said Dr Ow Chee Chung, chief executive of Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital.

"It is timely to have a good technological base to fall back on, now that staff will have their hands full trying to meet the new standards," he added.


Investment in technology translates into cost savings for nursing homes


Estimated manpower savings over five years for a home with 250 beds after adopting the new machines

20 mins

Time saved per shift handover at one home, after it adopted an IT system allowing data to be stored in a "cloud" network

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