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NHS Patient Death Rates Higher When Nurses Use Paper Records

Using Paper Records Instead Of Computers Can Drive Up Death Rates At NHS Hospitals


Nurses could be putting their patients at risk by monitoring their vital signs with paper charts rather than handheld computers, according to a new study.

Research published in BMJ Quality & Safety found that death rates have fallen at hospitals after they started using computers to keep track of indicators such as blood pressure, oxygen levels and pulse rates.

For example, the number of fatalities at University Hospital, Coventry fell by more than 370 throughout the first 12 months in which the new VitalPAC software was in use.

Similarly, the death rate at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth fell by nearly 400 during its first year of using handheld computers.

"This technology improves the performance of routine but important tasks and frees up clinical staff to do what only human beings can do - care for patients, " said Dr Duncan Watson of University Hospital Coventry.

Dr Paul Schmidt from Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust added that observing patients and making accurate records "provides a safety net to guard against their deterioration".

He said the electronic system was designed as his organisation believed traditional paper charts were "not doing the job well enough".

VitalPAC software has helped to eradicate problems such as nurses making calculation errors when they are using a pen and paper, as well as the possibility of a colleague misreading somebody's handwriting.

Data recorded on the handheld computer is sent to a hospital-wide network, which means patient health can be easily monitored by all employees and relevant information can be accessed instantaneously.

The Learning Clinic, which helped to develop the technology with Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, has hailed the findings of the report, with chief executive Roger Killen saying introducing VitalPAC has led to "dramatic" falls in mortality at two large hospitals.

He added that the partnership that led to the system being created is a "great example" of frontline clinicians, software designers and engineers coming together to produce a resource that "brings clear benefits to patients and staff".

Expert Opinion
These reports suggest that the safety of a number of patients is being put at risk by the continued use of paper records within the NHS. Errors relating to paperwork and administration can have devastating consequences if they lead to patients not being given the correct treatment.

“Patient care should always be at the forefront of the NHS and this means ensuring medical details are recorded, stored and shared reliably. The use of technology in medicine is increasing and the trials of the new record-keeping system indicate that it can improve the standard of care received by patients, as their detailed records are stored in one place and can easily be accessed by staff at a moment’s notice.

“A wider rollout of this technology could reduce death rates even further, but it is important that staff are provided with the correct training to ensure mistakes are not made when using the new system, as these could once again have a devastating impact on patients.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner

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