When Striving to Improve Patient Flow, Simplicity Is Best

One of the prime considerations in the development of Cambio was simplicity. PFM has undergone progressive changes over the years, but it has been steadily developed based on user feedback as opposed to huge revolutions. By keeping focused on the area of patient flow, the team have been able to truly refine this simple but incredibly powerful tool. PFM was created to support an obvious pain point among hospital staff: endlessly juggling paper notes, chasing down referral forms, and tackling heaps of admin that slow down even the most efficient members of staff.

Nigel Austin perhaps overstates the simplicity – he has decades of experience under his belt that has enabled his team to create a system that comfortably runs in multiple hospitals 24hrs a day 365 days a year. Long-term users of PFM hardly notice its presence anymore – it has become such an integral part of how they work that it is naturally embedded in the way that they look after the patients.

‘I’m always amazed that a piece of software which is in some ways so simple can bring so much benefit to the customers. I’m glad to see that it helps but it’s also a sad reflection on the state of existing health IT infrastructure.’

PFM is designed to replace manual processes and is based on the traditional whiteboards on the walls of hospitals everywhere. It’s designed to help the staff easily update information and then make that information readily available across the care setting. This means every member of staff is able to instantly check the status of a patient with the push of a button – or two to be precise:

‘Right at the beginning, our intention was to give back time for care. The idea was that instead of a cumbersome system, we just made things possible in just two clicks. The idea was absolutely to free up the staff from doing paperwork and admin so they can spend their time caring for the patients.’

The ultimate goal is easy visualisation of patient status to make managing patient flow a simple task. Hospital staff are extremely busy, especially in light of the pandemic, so the importance of anything that can make their lives easier cannot be overstated. Simplicity at the point of use is absolutely the best option.

Patient flow data

The pandemic has underlined the need for comprehensive data that enables a better understanding of the healthcare system and its needs. Nigel perceptively noted that this need for rich patient flow data has not emerged in the pandemic:

‘I don’t think this demand for real-time data is anything new, I suspect it’s always been there. It’s just that it has only now become a possibility and people are beginning to explore the potential applications of this type of health data.’

PFM not only helps people doing the data analysis and perhaps operational management, but it actually helps the staff who are using the system on the frontline. Everyone benefits; nurses, physicians, and even the cleaning staff in some hospitals have improved their processes with PFM. This shared benefit makes it a tool people across the trust are eager to use.

‘PFM helps hospitals make the best use of their resources, whether that’s physical resources or staff time. Staff can see patient status at a glance and easily see what needs to happen next. This can be anything from escalating to surgery to just seeing when beds are empty to make cleaning more efficient. Patient flow involves so much more than just managing a single patient journey, it’s about how the entire hospital system works together.’

The more time that can be saved on admin, the more time staff have to spend working on the parts of their roles that matter. In terms of the wider picture of NHS post-pandemic recovery, this has the potential to help trusts tackle their current patient backlogs.

The future of PFM

The future with Cambio’s PFM looks bright, as does the future of the platform itself. Nigel’s team is currently working on making it possible to run PFM in the cloud in line with the new NHS Digital Strategy. This is perhaps the most major change of the platform to date, but most of the changes are happening under the hood and will go unnoticed by users.

As far as user-facing functionality is concerned, the team will continue to make small tweaks to refine the experience and make things simpler than ever. Improving security is always part of the update process and the team is exploring various multi-factor authentication options. The challenge of these extra security measures is ensuring they don’t become so cumbersome that they go against the simplicity at the heart of PFM.