The new technology transforming healthcare

For as long as healthcare has existed, new technology has been revolutionising not just how procedures happen but also what’s possible – and at Virgin Care we’re proud of the technology we’ve invested in to improve the services we provide to patients in the NHS across England.

We are constantly looking for new technology which will improve our services for patients, improve outcomes and save the taxpayer money. And over the last 10 years we’ve done just that: introducing mobile technology which has given nurses over a third more time with patients, introducing technology which improves our colleagues’ lives with Virgin Pulse and other wellness platforms, as well as piloting other new and pioneering technology.

Pressure ulcers, although often avoidable, are a major issue across the NHS, costing more than £2bn a year nationally through specialist equipment and by increasing the length of patients’ stays in hospital by around five times.

They develop when areas of the body – particularly bony areas like the heels or coccyx - remain in contact with something like a bed or chair which creates friction. Traditional methods of assessing risk include looking at patients’ mobility, medical history and nutrition as these factors can all play a part.

But in October 2015, we began a pilot in partnership with Bruin Biometrics, to introduce the SEM Scanner as part of the risk-assessing process at one of our community hospitals – in Farnham, Surrey.

Using tiny electric pulses, the scanner is able to detect where skin is already damaged before this damage becomes visible as a pressure ulcer, giving nurses extra information on which patients are most at risk and giving them extra time to deliver targeted care which can reverse the damage and prevent ulceration. 

Over the course of a six-month pilot, the increased awareness of pressure ulcers alongside the results from the scanner led to a 95 per cent reduction in the number of pressure ulcers compared to the same period the previous year. During the pilot nurses on the wards used the scanner in addition to their usual treatment techniques.

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Feedback from nursing colleagues after the pilot was also positive: nurses overwhelmingly said they found the scanner easy to use and said it gave them really useful information to support decision-making about their patients’ pressure ulcers.

Pressure ulcers can be life-threatening if they become too serious. If the ulcer becomes infected there is a risk the infection will spread and this can lead to bone and joint infections, and even blood poisoning. The SEM Scanner successfully identifies the early signs of pressure ulcers and reduces the risk of serious long-term effects for patients.  

As a result of the programme’s success, at the start of 2016 we began to expand our use of the SEM Scanner with Healthcare Assistants and Nurses at both Woking Community Hospital and Farnham Community Hospital now using the scanners routinely with Bruin Biometrics providing the scanners and training for the teams. Clinical Leads are reviewing the pathways for patients to incorporate the scanner alongside the traditional methods across all wards in the future.

The SEM Scanner’s success has shown that the combination of nurses’ traditional care routine and new preventative technology means patient care is improved. We also know that improved patient care leads to a boost in morale among nursing staff.

We are always looking into developing partnerships with organisations that can help us further improve care for patients and provide the best working environment for our colleagues. From replacing outdated mobile phones, tablets and laptops for better mobile working, to introducing brand new technology to directly improve patient care, our aim is that everybody using our services feels the Virgin Care difference.

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