This article first appeared on Building Better Healthcare | Read Full Article
BBH looks at the vital role hospital porters play and how technology can help to optimise services and drive efficiency. Porters have a key role to play in keeping hospital services running, but they are often overlooked and the way they work is outdated and inefficient.
Porters are one of the often-unseen and unrecognised cogs that keep a hospital running – the oil in the engine of acute healthcare.
They not only move patients between wards and departments, but they also ferry goods and vital supplies including medical equipment, linen, blood, and samples.
And their role has proved particularly critical during the COVID-19 response, where they have played a major part in maintaining flow throughout hospitals, despite their numbers being reduced due to ill health and self isolation.
No-one really thinks about porters and very little investment is made in this area, but they are intrinsic to the running of hospitals
But portering still remains an underfunded area of healthcare delivery and one which has not seen the kind of technological transformation that other services and departments have in recent years.
Speaking to BBH, Deb Sutton, director of client support at TeleTracking, explains: “Portering, like cleaning, is a ‘Cinderella’ service in hospitals. No-one really thinks about porters and very little investment is made in this area, but they are intrinsic to the running of hospitals in general and much can be done to make the service more efficient.”
Traditionally, most hospitals have a dispatcher – a single person who sits at a desk taking calls from across all wards and departments where a porter is needed.
"At the moment, with the coronavirus outbreak, every second counts and there is a pressing need to optimise ever-decreasing resources."
When porters have finished a job, they return to the central control or porters’ lodge where they will pick up their next job.
Sutton said: “The first problem is there is usually only one phone, so a busy nurse trying to book a porter will have to keep ringing until they get through. Then they have no idea how long it will take for that porter to come. It could be five minutes or three hours.
“There is a complete lack of visibility and often when the porter gets to the ward they get reprimanded by the nurses because it has taken longer than expected for them to arrive, when they are just trying to cover all the demands.
“The portering manager doesn’t know where they are and their ability to manage the service is compromised. They do not know if they are spending all their time in radiology or in the pharmacy, or they are just out having a smoke.
“This lack of visibility is very inefficient.”
While some hospitals have pagers or radios, these may not work across the whole network and they rely on the porters answering the bleeps.
Sutton said: “At the moment, with the coronavirus outbreak, every second counts and there is a pressing need to optimise ever-decreasing resources and this lack of visibility regarding both porter location and performance is compromising a very-stretched system.
“Why should highly-stressed individuals spend time trying to get through to the single dispatcher, often making repeated calls because the line is engaged? And how, with no view of where any porter may be in the hospital, can one dispatcher efficiently allocate tasks?
“The process is outdated, inefficient and unnecessary and it is compromising performance and affecting patient outcomes.”
This is where technology can have a hugely-positive impact.
TeleTracking’s automation technology eradicates the need for any dispatchers – saving between £60,000-£150,000 a year, depending on the size of hospital.