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Why are digital advances so important to the Lancashire and South Cumbria New Hospitals Programme?

a picture of a medical professional

Steven Hipwell is a Senior Programme Consultant and Digital Lead for the New Hospitals Programme. Here, he discusses the benefits of technology in hospitals and why digital is such an integral part of proposals for new hospital facilities in Lancashire and South Cumbria.

What is your role in the New Hospitals Programme?

My job sits in an unusual place, somewhere between IT and construction. Digital can do more to support healthcare delivery than it ever has before. It’s my job to make sure that technological advances can enable comfort, health and wellbeing to everyone who uses our hospitals.

How can new technology improve hospitals for patients?

Lots of people are scared of hospitals. It’s often not somewhere you would choose to go. Patients go for very specific, sometimes nerve-wracking reasons. We want to be able to make it easier for patients to plan their visit and improve their experience when they are here.

Before patients even get to the hospital, we can make changes so that hospitals are easier to find. We can introduce clearer directions both on our hospital websites and at the buildings, with digital wayfinding.

We can create ways for patients to easily book and amend their appointments online, with as few clicks as possible. We can also make sure all information meets accessibility standards, for those who have additional needs.

Another benefit of technology in hospitals is how it makes the buildings much more inviting too. We can control and manage the lights, heating, and air conditioning with the click of a button, and make sure patient arrival is super smooth. We’ll also ensure WiFi is available and reliable for all.

Patients would also see the benefits of the improvements to patient record systems, some of which are still paper based, by moving them all to a digital system. This would ensure a more seamless approach to storing their personal information.

How can new technology improve hospitals for staff?

We would see major improvements if the many different electronic systems used by the different departments within the hospital (and other settings outside the hospital too) all work together. Digitising all patient record systems, for example, would not only improve the experience for patients, but also save time for staff as well.

Technology can also benefit our hardworking facilities teams, for example, automated ordering can also be used to re-order stock, book maintenance and look for the best deals on stock, against the procurement framework.

And of course, a more comfortable environment, enabled by digital advances, will make our staff’s general working day easier as well.

What about members of the public who aren’t great with technology? How will they cope with these changes?

We’ll be very careful to make sure that we keep the all-important human interaction element of our hospitals alongside new technology. For example, digital registration will be available for those who feel comfortable using it, to help speed up the movement of patients through our buildings. However, our staff will always be there to assist anyone who needs them, and we’ll listen to staff and patients to get their input as we introduce new technology, providing training and reassurance to everyone along the way.

Will this all need to be updated again in five years?

Probably, yes. Technology is advancing so quickly, that’s why it’s really important to make sure that the changes we make now are adaptable and flexible. Any new facilities that we build will have the infrastructure and power to adapt. For example, the cableways will be created so that they can be updated, and we’ll ensure cellular and Wi-Fi technologies are designed and co-ordinated to provide the best coverage and services.

Can technology help our hospitals become more environmentally friendly?

Digital is integral to the design, build and operation of new hospitals and their sustainability. Digital technologies are used right from the start of the process. Digital, 3D models of the hospitals are built to help the design process and a key part of this planning is sustainability.

These digital models can provide carbon output modelling for the building and make predictions for the future to ensure emissions are kept low and all performance standards are met.

Once operational, sensors can collect data and optimise building performance across a range of functions from power saving, heating, lighting, air-conditioning to ensure the best levels for comfort and safety. These same functions can be controlled even further at a local level, adjusting light levels to harmonise with natural sleeping and waking cycles to enhance patient comfort and experience, and to promote wellbeing.

Digital technology is fundamental to the sustainability of our new hospital facilities. It also ensures optimum patient comfort, safety and wellbeing which we hope, in turn, will enhance patient outcomes.

Read more about the shortlist of proposals for new hospital facilities in our region.

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© 2021 Lancashire and South Cumbria New Hospitals Programme.