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Blood tracking – slashing hospital costs & improving patient safety

Posted by Matt McAlister

May 13, 2016 at 8:17 AM


Blood transfusions are a routine part of hospital work. But in hospitals using manual systems, it’s a process riddled with the potential for error – from a lab worker accidentally mislabelling a blood unit to the unit having to be discarded because the porter has been held up en route from lab to ward.

Sometimes the mistake isn’t discovered until the unit is at the patient’s bedside and transfusion has begun, with the risk that the patient suffers an adverse reaction: in 2014, in the UK, 764 serious adverse events, and 346 serious adverse reactions, were reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Blood collection is also time-consuming. A lab worker has to select a unit from the computer system, fetch the unit from stock, print out the correct label, call the ward and then retrieve the right unit to hand to the porter or nurse. Once a call is received in the ward from the lab, a nurse or porter has to go to the lab, sign for the unit manually and then get back to the ward without delay to make sure the transfusion is carried out in line with cold chain rules. When that same process is repeated hundreds of times a year, the hours spent in retrieving and carrying add up to a significant portion of working hours.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Eliminating errors through automation

Automated blood tracking solutions can slash error rates to near-zero and create huge time savings.

Our software creates robust workflows for your teams to follow with safety checks built in every step of the way. When the lab worker selects a unit of blood, that unit is given a unique identifier assigned to a particular patient. The lab worker prints and attaches a compatibility label, which has the patient’s name and demographic details, and then takes the unit to a secure, public-facing fridge (this might be in a corridor, for example).

When the lab worker places the unit in the fridge, they use a mobile computer or scanner to scan the unit and the compatibility label to make sure it’s the right label for the right unit. Once the unit is in place, an electronic message is sent automatically, with a barcode, to the ward nurse on their mobile device. The nurse clicks to accept the job, goes to the fridge and uses the barcode scanner to scan the barcode in the text message. This makes absolutely sure that the blood unit being collected is the correct one. (Only authorised personnel are allowed access to the fridge.)

This unlocks the fridge automatically, and the screen will tell the nurse where the unit of blood is in the fridge. The nurse scans the unit to confirm collection, and the cold chain rules kick in: if there’s a breach after this ­– if the blood isn’t used within the appropriate time limit – the lab is automatically alerted.

Back on the ward, the senior nurse records a receipt using a computer on wheels. The final step is to scan both the patient’s wristband and the unit of blood: if the match is incorrect, an alert sounds so the process can be stopped. If everything’s ok the transfusion can begin.

Paperless, efficient and safe

While we can’t guarantee that staff will never make a mistake, a robust automated blood tracking system makes it much harder for an error to slip through.

And time previously spent in making phone calls, walking to a lab and back and filling in pieces of paper is saved by using a seamless, paperless process that makes the unit’s journey from lab to ward as smooth as it possibly can be.

A final benefit is that an automated system creates a complete audit trail. Every step of the unit’s journey is logged automatically, so staff and management benefit from being able to identify both who labelled and stored a particular unit and who collected it – and when they did so. Regulatory inspections become almost hassle-free: all the data you need is catalogued, saved and searchable – staff no longer have to wade through boxes of paper.

It’s not often that a solution can make dramatic improvements in patient safety while improving productivity and reducing costs. Blood tracking is one example of a technology that does just that – hospitals typically see a return on investment in nine months. After those nine months, the system pays for itself many times over.

About the author: Matt McAlister is founder and managing director of MSoft eSolutions, which specialises in blood tracking solutions for the healthcare sector.

Topics: Healthcare