Over the past week I have been lucky enough to be tucked up in bed, away from the once again sinking temperatures.

However, I have been unlucky enough to have contracted norovirus, a nasty bug-type virus which affects up to one million people per year and causes symptoms such as severe vomiting, stomach pains amongst others…

Having visited several hospitals over the past couple of weeks, I guess the risk of catching the bug is higher when you work in healthcare.

But catching the bug, from spending time on wards for less than an hour at a time and being laid up in bed for almost three days, has really driven home the importance of reducing readmissions and keeping people out of hospital for as long as possible in order to reduce such hospital acquired infections.

One trust recognised for stepping up its game in this area, following a prolonged outbreak of Norovirus across three months in 2007, is Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The outbreak saw patients taking an extra 1,770 bed days and the trust lose about £708,000 over a three month period.

However, simply by the trust investing in cleaning standards and implementing a hydrogen peroxide mist technology, which sprays a low concentration of cleaning mist, they were able to save £650,000 within four months of implementation.

Yet another way trusts are increasingly looking to reduce the spread of hospital infection is by ensuring that patients spend as little time as possible in hospital.

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Typically, patients are admitted to hospital seven days a week but only discharged during five of those days, often resulting in more patients than a trust can handle and prolonged length of stay. In addition hospitals are usually more able to predict the quantity and type of admissions but experience far more variation in patterns of patient discharge, which makes it difficult to predict how long a patient will be on the ward for. This can often be due to bottlenecks in the carepathway, for example, not knowing the exact location of a patient, their status or having the appropriate bed ready on the next ward or even the right social care service set up for when they leave hospital.

Technology seems to be providing a relatively simple solution to this in a whole range of areas.

Of course, the buzzword, tele-health – keeping patients with long-term conditions in a homecare setting rather than admitting them to hospital is key to addressing this. So it is important that the vast array of systems which can reduce length of stay, within the hospital setting, are not overlooked.

Bed management systems in particular which provide real-time decision support based on algorithms are able to aid discharge planning and patient flow. eWhiteboards systems ensure that patients are moved seamlessly across different areas of the trust quickly rather than waiting for beds (not to mention alerting staff and porters to areas that may need deep cleaning). Even clinical portals and electronic patient records, which can speed up a patient’s diagnosis and ultimately their discharge can help.

So next time I visit a hospital, I will not just be reaching for the hand sanitiser to make sure they are doing all that they can to prevent infection, but eagerly searching out those additional systems that can really make a difference.

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