Nurse Call Systems - No longer just buzzers and lights


Technology has moved on so much in recent years and electronic systems and devices are able to do things that were just science-fiction a matter of a few years ago

In the modern age of Smart Hospital, modular buildings and AI, systems cannot remain as they once were, and that applies as much to Nurse call systems as it does to any other system.

Technology has moved on so much in recent years and electronic systems and devices are able to do things that were just science-fiction a matter of a few years ago. The majority of these devices still carry out their basic functions, but those fade into the background in comparison to what they can also do. Mobile phones can still make voice calls, as they always have, but now you can video-chat while on the move, take videos and edit them before sending on to friends or posting world-wide in the blink of an eye. Our Nurse call systems have moved on in a similar way…. They can still be used to call for a nurse, or for a nurse to raise an emergency call, but they can do so much more… for example, we can use built-in RTLS to automatically detect the presence of a nurse or doctor when attending to a call. We can use Alexa to take voice commands and raise calls. We can configure mobile devices to receive calls based on a nurse’s area of responsibility, but also to receive emergency calls from other areas. The nurse can then call back to talk to the patient to evaluate the nature of the call. We can also integrate with multiple systems to report on alarms and alerts in one place….and yet… the take-up of the more advanced features is slow. We have to think of the reasons behind this, and there are a few.

Firstly we have the barrier of familiarity – changing to something new for some engineering teams is a little like trying to get my Mother to use a mobile phone (it has taken years!).

Then we have the barrier of the procurement system. I won’t labour on this point, but it certainly leads to a basic system being chosen and installed, over and above the “bells and whistles” version.

Finally we have cost…. It is clear that a system with high-tech advances will be more expensive than one that just does the basics, and with budgets as they are, it is sometimes difficult for clients to justify the additional spend to get the latest and greatest system.

So how do we help overcome these obstacles?

The first barrier requires education and perseverance.

The second barrier requires a rethink of how systems are specified in the procurement process.

The third however, system providers have some control over but requires a little more thought, and I will explain why: Think initially of the car industry.. you can buy a car with basic spec, but upgrading the features in that car at a later date proves more expensive than if you chose the option in the first place, and in some cases the feature you want cannot be retro-fitted. This approach wouldn’t be suitable for our customer.

Think back to when PCs were all the rage, and the sales model for these was based around various options (high-end, mid-range and low end), but the key here was as long as you purchased the right “low-end” system, you could add the “bells and whistles” later and end up with a high-end PC to play games, or run business applications, or both!

The idea of a system whereby the basics can be purchased initially, then upgraded to the features you want at a later date does fit in with our customers, and this is what we refer to as the modular approach. You can purchase modules as and when you need them, or can afford them, but the basic system being available initially helps to get over the procurement model barrier mentioned earlier, as the initial cost of installation is much lower than the “bells and whistles” version.

A prime example of this was at an installation for Thames Hospice: Initially the standard Nurse Call system was installed as part of the Hospice’s new build project, approved through the procurement process for the project. Following a visit to the demonstration facility at Austco’s UK offices, Hospice staff saw an innovation that they believed was a “must have” for their patients. With their clinical teams supporting very vulnerable patients on site the Inpatient Unit, it is vital that every opportunity is taken to maximize the effectiveness of systems installed.

Austco integrated their Tacera solution with the Amazon Echo system (Alexa), to allow patients to call for a nurse rather than having to press a button. The buttons / handsets etc are still there of course, but the convenience, particularly for those patients that may not have the strength to press a button, enables nurses to be alerted should the patient need them. All the patients have to do is callout “Alexa, help”, and a call for that room is raised on the Nurse Call system. The entertainment system interprets the command, and when recognized it sends a signal to the Nurse Call system. The two systems work together in order that the source of the command can be translated into an alarm from the correct room. The call appears on the system as if the patient had pressed the call button. When a nurse enters the room, they press the presence button to show they are in attendance, and can cancel the alarm from there.

In addition to this, the patients get the usual entertainment options this system offers in their room, so providing both entertainment the convenience of being able to call for a nurse.

Then when visiting the site and speaking to clinical staff, it was highlighted that in some cases when assisting a patient and another call is raised on the system, they couldn’t always see where the alarm was coming from (if they were in a bathroom for example). It was clear that our mobile solution “Pulse Mobile” would overcome this issue, and the system was installed.

The customer also expressed an interest in connecting bed mats to the Nurse Call system, so we were able to change out the call points for those with 2 pendant sockets, so enabling permanent connection of the bed mats.

Finally, there was a requirement during the pandemic for a Covid call to be placed on the system in areas where the infection was present. As the system is software based, we were able to program a new call type to allow for this to happen aiding in staff in both awareness and infection control.

As this demonstrates, the modular approach allows for great flexibility and helps to overcome some of the barriers that often prevent a healthcare organisation from getting the system they either want, or need in this modern technology age.

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