Chris Netherton

Chris Netherton

Managing Director, Microtest

As the NHS is under intense pressure to save costs, improve efficiencies and deliver better quality patient care, the drive towards a paperless and digital healthcare system is gathering pace. ‘Patient-driven health’ and ‘EHR’ are buzzwords we all hear every day. As one of the top four suppliers of clinical IT systems in the UK, our focus is largely on the clinical side. However, in future, IT and technology will play a greater role in driving efficiencies and cost savings in other areas that are increasingly seen as vital to transforming the NHS. Areas such as procurement, supply chain and inventory management are now seen to be equally important areas for focus and improvement, as Lord Carter of Coles has highlighted in his recent excellent report.

Right now, very few trusts in the UK can show the same level of control or visibility over inventory or purchase order compliance that is now demonstrated in healthcare systems elsewhere in the world and also in other UK sectors such as retail and food service.

Lord Carter has pointed out that “to truly performance manage quality and efficiency on a regular basis, seamless real-time data is needed, which in turn requires investment in interoperable information technology.”

At Microtest, it seems to us that current projects such as GP Connect are just one part of the jigsaw. Other important initiatives, such as GS1 Standards, are also working towards the same goal of transforming the NHS through improved efficiency. Interoperable IT systems will enable better clinical care and also improved quality management.

Indeed, GS1 standards have provided a common foundation for business since the first barcode was scanned over 40 years ago. Their standards now operate 24/7 around the world– from scanning supermarket groceries or buying a product online. In fact, there are over 5 billion successful scans of a GS1 barcode every single day.

So what are benefits of GS1 standards to healthcare? Benefits include full visibility of stock, automatic tracking and tracing and improved inventory management – all leading to time savings for staff and improved patient safety. Tighter supply chain management will also help eliminate any sub-standard and counterfeit drugs and medical appliances. And helping staff in a busy hospital find a particular medical device is potentially lifesaving. A recent article in the HSJ by NHS Supply Chain highlights that millions of pounds could be saved with better management of capital medical equipment and assets.

Technology is the key to unlocking these benefits. GS1 certified systems take auto-ID hardware (barcode, RFID, RTLS) and use it to generate real-time locating data. This information is aggregated in a way that is interoperable and provides information where it is needed. The very latest technology, such as Bluetooth beacons, will also have a part to play in lowering costs in future.

As Lord Carter states “The best performing hospital systems around the world have real-time data at their fingertips enabling them to make decisions on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to improve performance.”

Microtest fully supports the aims of GS1 and several elements of our products already track GS1 standards. We will introduce more in future as we continue to lead the way in this important area. This is the next frontier where technology can help transform healthcare in the UK.

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