Porters and clinicians at one of the UK’s biggest NHS Trusts have praised a sophisticated communications solution introduced by service provider Sodexo to three west London hospitals.
When Sodexo was tendering for a major facilities management contract with London’s Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust the services giant knew that technology would be key to its success.
The challenge it faced was not small. Handling over one million patient contacts annually Imperial is one of the UK’s biggest acute NHS trusts. Up for tender were the domestic, catering and, crucially, portering operations at three of the Trust’s busy hospitals, Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s, the latter famously in the news as birthplace of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge.
“In the world of healthcare helpdesks portering probably accounts for 80 percent of all calls so you’ve got to get it right. It’s got to be quick, efficient, easy to use and most of all reliable,” says Sodexo IT Implementation Manager (New Business), Anthony Slater when explaining why the company placed such emphasis on technology within its successful tender response.
The company saw that it could greatly improve upon the existing system which relied upon a standalone two-way radio system and the vagaries of human nature. “Previously a call would be received, logged and somebody would then get on the radio or shout to the next guy in the Porter’s Lodge and say ‘you’ve got to move Mrs Smith from point A to point B and you need an oxygen cylinder.’ It was pretty inefficient and not the way we wanted to do things,” says Anthony.
“We wanted more of an integrated solution that would enable a call received by a helpdesk operator to be recorded onto a computer system integrated with the radio network and a text message with all the information of what the job required sent straight to a porter.”
To achieve this aim and much more Anthony turned to one of Sodexo’s preferred suppliers, Pennine. The solution the company devised involved harnessing a Motorola MOTOTRBO digital two way radio system with Carps – a sophisticated task management system – and integrating the whole with Imperial’s existing IT infrastructure.
This would not only enable the automatic logging, routing and tracking of tasks but allow Sodexo to radically alter and streamline the whole process by empowering clinical staff to instruct porters directly.
“What we really, really wanted to do was to implement a self-service capability, to allow nursing staff on the wards, not Sodexo employees, to get on a PC with Carps installed on it and log a request. That’s what we’re implementing now. It’s very simple, they have to fill in about four fields, press submit and in it goes. Then they can instantly see where they are in queue, log a response, and get real-time status updates as to what’s happening to that request.
“Importantly they don’t have to pick the phone up which is good for them and good for us. We can eliminate a huge volume of calls to the helpdesk and the frustration that extremely busy clinical staff were previously suffering when being put on hold at peak times.”
The new self-service system has, he says been “extremely well received” by nurses who have so far benefited from its introduction, as has the wider solution by porters, cleaners and catering teams. The Motorola DP4800 portable digital two-way radios have been found easy to use whilst network coverage has been greatly improved. The deadspots suffered by the old system were a particular irritation for porters who had to deal with issues such as radio coverage being good on one side of the main lift shift at Charing Cross hospital but less so on the other. These have been eliminated with as close as possible to 100 percent coverage of all three sites achieved.
“The feedback that I had on the ground was that they were all very happy,” confirms Anthony, “It’s simple to use and that’s the key thing for users when you’re implementing an integrated solution, whether it’s voice, messaging or anything like that in a busy high volume, high pressure environment.”
The system is also much more efficient with the new technology and its integration with the existing IP infrastructure enabling rationalisation. Previously calls were handled by helpdesks at each of the three hospitals whereas now they are routed to porters on all sites through one central function at Charing Cross.
Another crucial benefit to Sodexo has been the extensive audit data and reporting tools available in Carps. “All the metrics and Service Level Agreement (SLA) data is recorded by Carps, giving us the statistics we are required to provide to the Trust on a monthly basis. We have commercial arrangements in place that mean we must meet targets. The fact that every single call and status change is logged and time-stamped means we’re quickly able to create very powerful reports to demonstrate the quantity and, more importantly, the quality of service that we’re delivering.”
With the need not just to replace an old two-way radio system but also integrate the new one with both the Carps software and the IT structure, installation could have presented something of a logistical headache. It was though “pain free” after Sodexo facilitated dialogue between Pennine’s engineers and Imperial’s IT team, trusting them to prepare the ground for the switchover.
“Hats off to the project planning by the guys from Pennine, they really did a great job,” enthuses Anthony. “Effectively all of the installation work had been done beforehand, the antennas, base stations and repeaters had been installed and the handsets were pre-programmed, racked up and were charging ready to go. They had also walked the site ahead of mobilisation using test frequencies to check the coverage so we just had to unplug one system and switch another one on.”
A smooth system transition was clearly vital as Sodexo had plenty of its own balls to juggle as it took over the contract, ranging from issuing of new uniforms to handling one-to-one conversations over terms and conditions as staff moved from one employer to another. “This was a prestigious contract, one of our biggest healthcare contracts, so we really wanted to make sure that whatever operational tools we put forward were solid and worked well, responsively and reliably. That’s what we ended up with, a great radio system integrated into a great piece of software.” concludes Anthony.