NHS England - Transformation Directorate

Embracing digital tools to improve efficiency, productivity and patient safety

Digital technology not only has the power to transform patient care, but it could also drive enormous productivity and efficiency gains in the NHS.

NHSX’s Digital Productivity Programme is using evidence-based research to identify the greatest benefit-realising digital technologies that improve productivity and efficiency to release time to care.

One technology we have been looking at is automated identification and data capture (AIDC) systems such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and real time location systems (RTLS). AIDC refers to any technology that collects information from objects, sounds or images without a person needing to manually enter the data.

RFID and RTLS use tags attached to objects to track them without the need for the physical process of scanning, and are already used in aviation, retail and banking.

In healthcare, a recent novel application of RFID is in chronic wound management - where without removing the bandage the ‘tag’ can provide doctors with vital information about how a wound is healing.

Our discovery work

To understand the current use and spread of RFID and RTLS in the NHS, we conducted a national survey and spoke with colleagues across the country.

We discovered that many organisations are already using this technology to locate highly sought after medical equipment, which reduced the time to find a tagged asset to less than 25 seconds and released over 140,000 hours of clinical time back to patient care. During the pandemic this technology was widely used to track and monitor the availability and whereabouts of beds and vital medical devices, such as ventilators.

Dr Didi Akinluyi, Head of Clinical Engineering at Guys' and St Thomas' highlighted that “implementation of asset tracking systems such as RFID potentially can save up to £250k annually for the trust through a reduced need to replace lost medical devices, and through operational efficiency gains.”

The challenges

Challenges described by users varied based on their experiences, however the most common challenges identified were:

  • a lack of understanding of the technology, best practice and data on benefits
  • having to work with legacy systems for integration
  • system maintenance after implementation
  • a lack of financial resources to support the setup and ongoing costs.

One of the main barriers identified by project leads included a lack of buy-in from key colleagues such as senior leadership. This emphasised the importance of joined-up working and interoperability.

The applications and outcomes

In addition to our discovery work, we also conducted a literature review to gain insights into international applications of RFID and RTLS.

We reviewed over 450 case studies, and the top 3 application areas that were highlighted in our research were:

  1. medical device asset management
  2. patient pathway management across emergency and surgery departments, and
  3. medicine inventory management.

The successful introduction of these technologies lead to a range of outcomes from increased staff productivity and satisfaction by reducing administrative burden; to improved safety and reduced error by monitoring patients, equipment and medicine.

This work has demonstrated that every NHS trust could potentially save up to £5m if RFID and RTLS systems are implemented across all three applications in hospital emergency and surgical departments.

New reusable benefit framework and resources

To help local NHS trusts take the next step to introduce RFID and RTLS systems we have designed a benefit framework and evaluation structure for the top three applications of RFID.

This document summarises our findings from the literature review and highlights the associated benefits for each application. It may help your organisation to capture, benchmark, measure, and monetise any benefits.

As part of our work to develop a repository of innovative best-practice case studies we would love to hear from you. If you have any suggestions or stories to share, or to request access to the benefit framework and evaluation structure, then please get in touch at digital.productivity@nhsx.nhs.uk.