If any sector is in need of process change, it’s healthcare. There are well-known NHS waiting list woes and A&E delays, but behind these figures are workforce and operational issues that create real stress on clinical staff.

Nurses spend 10 per cent of their time searching for equipment (according to a 2009 study), and sadly, little has changed. Another study also revealed nurses thought there was “16-30 per cent preventable wasted time during the shift”, with the most contributing factors including waiting “for lab data responses, transfer of patients, or delivery of care”.

With an ageing nursing population and less experienced nurses making up a larger portion of the nursing staff, it is more important than ever to improve processes and design them into the ongoing care flow of the hospital. Nurses need to be empowered to do their jobs efficiently and hospitals need ways of building operational sustainability into their operational improvement efforts.

However, current levers of change are failing to deliver necessary improvements. Consultants are brought in to redesign processes and make improvements, but six months later, everything returns to stasis. Change is inconsistent and unsustainable.

What creates sustainability of any process change is access to real-time data – and currently, data is nearly impossible to obtain on a real-time, ongoing basis.

Why does process change typically fail?

Process change tends to stick when it has tangible – or, in some cases, perceived – benefits. If the change will make an employee’s job easier, for example, or it eliminates parts of their job they don’t like or deem low value, then it is much more likely to take hold. But if process change fails to meet this expectation, then the opposite happens.

Most regulatory and electronic health record (EHR) centric process change imposed upon nursing has created more work (again, real or perceived), not less, and given a black eye to Six Sigma – a framework of tools for achieving process change – in hospitals.

Despite 90 per cent of NHS trusts now using EHR, the British Medical Journal also discovered that the majority are still using paper for other means. It is this mixture of methods and change approaches that can add strain to staff workloads, not improve them, and also frustrate attempts to create a unified system and process.

What is sustainable process change – and what sabotages it?

Sustainable process change means building operational sustainability, where hospitals can optimise resources in real-time, operate within their means and allow for incremental capacity increases. To do this, they need to introduce new methods for facilitating patient flow, allocating staff and resources, and conducting overall coordination and management. Then, they need the right technology and tools to facilitate this change.

A revealing survey published by the BMA last month showed how new initiatives can sabotage sustainable change when introduced incorrectly; doctors reported that working with new associates designed to free up their time to focus on patient care was doing the opposite and increasing their workloads. It highlighted how increased workloads are not stemming from resource inadequacies alone but from process and operational inefficiencies.

When it comes to technology, another BMA survey estimated that “13.5 million working hours are lost annually in England due to inadequate IT systems and equipment in the NHS”. Management needs to better understand employee needs to introduce initiatives and hospitals are in desperate need of an easy-to-integrate and central IT system that can drive process change in a sustainable and unified way.

How can nursing technology drive sustainable improvements?

A new concept called Reverse Bed Chain (RBC) is looking to address these failures. RBC is all about driving process improvement by giving nurses tools to fuel activity and optimise resources. Through using real-time location services technology (RTLS), the strategy provides a hub of real-time data that allows for the optimal allocation of staff and resources. How does it do this?

Essentially an Uber for healthcare, staff can access an intelligent workforce app via their smartphones which can track the location of patients, staff and equipment in real-time. This means staff and resources can be smartly allocated to where they are most needed (depending on what is physically closest to the necessary location). Patients can be moved through the hospital most efficiently.

This gives nurses the freedom to proactively drive care and helps build overall operational efficiency: patient flow happens more efficiently, staff can access patient information as and when needed, and managers have oversight on trends and can plan more effectively.

The winning approach

Data itself has not been an issue in healthcare – instead, it’s the fact it is often siloed and in unusable formats, making real-time data collection near impossible. This makes it harder to move patients efficiently, share patient information and allocate resources effectively.

So, access to real-time data is a vital way of building sustainable change. RBC combines process change strategies with technology to deliver new efficiencies, using real-time data to optimise hospital resources and allow nurses to proactively carry out care. There’s no burst of activity and then a return to previous processes – alongside broader management and coordination strategies, the process lays a foundation for building operational sustainability.

If nurses and staff can’t see the visible or perceived impact of process change, it is likely to fail in its mission. The key to unlocking process change is finding ways to give nurses the power to drive processes that follow evidence-based protocols and allow them to see its impact – that’s the winner.

Connie Moser is CEO of Navenio Ltd.