In Healthcare, Your Biggest Asset Is Also Your Biggest Liability: Your Environment
At the numerous hospitals in the UK and around the world, dedicated healthcare staff are focused on providing the highest level of critical care to patients when they need it the most. These hardworking men and women dedicate their lives to saving and improving those of others.
Yet, despite this, if you asked a patient to use one word to describe an experience they had with a hospital, ‘unpleasant’ would probably be used a lot.
Friendly faces and caring staff members can only take you so far when you are also greeted with bare sterile clinical walls, odours, and shared treatment and bed spaces, coupled to the possibility that you are likely to be in some pain for the duration of your stay.
People do not go to a hospital because they want to—they go because they are referred for treatment. Many of them are afraid, unsure of what to expect, feel out of their comfort zone—experiencing a lack of control, and could be incredibly uncomfortable as a result of their condition. So it is vital to do whatever you can as a healthcare professional to help make their environment and the overall care package as safe, supportive, clear, and inviting as possible.
For the past three years, I have been a proud Senior Officer of the University of Birmingham. Prior to that, I worked in the National Health Service (NHS) for almost three decades managing over 20 hospitals of varying sizes and physical condition over that period of time. The last ten years of my NHS career I was based in London. I spent roughly seven years at University College Hospital London, and then three years at Barts Health, which is the largest NHS trust anywhere in the UK. Barts Health looks after a number of different hospitals across London and included both the newest and the oldest hospitals in the NHS healthcare system.
The Old vs the New
During my time in the NHS space, I had the opportunity to interact and collaborate with not only patients, but also a broad spectrum of hospital staff members. During this time I saw various problems arise in different facilities.
One of the major issues hospitals face is ‘infections by proximity.’ Naturally, certain types of bugs and infections can easily transfer from patient to patient, and from one bed space to another, due to the close quarters and risk of cross-contamination.
Another consistent problem I've seen is patient wellbeing issues, specifically over privacy and dignity. If you have a six-bed bay with patients in it, there may be options to partition it off so the space is individual and more private. But these patients still need access to toilets and washing facilities, which they often share. Lack of privacy can also arise if you have to deal with more people than you have space to properly care for them.
In addition to the lack of space, buildings also have to deal with something of a ‘lack of focus on the patient environment.’ Many are sterile, cold, uninviting buildings most people call to mind when they think about hospitals.
All of these compounded themselves into having a negative effect on the patient experience and often on recovery times.
A lot of these issues have been known for years, but simply could not be actioned against due to a lack of resources and space to decant activity into during remedial works or lack of funding, or—more often than not—both.
Over the years, whenever a need would arise, estates teams would come up with totally custom, one-off solutions. Collectively, not only was this inefficient, it was a massive waste of resources as well.
Be the Change You Want to See
These issues were certainly nothing new, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I was in a position where I could enact change. During my tenure at University College London Hospitals, there was a programme called Smart Ideas, which was run in conjunction with the NHS. At the time, the major problem we aimed to solve was infection control and creating an environment that could cope with MRSA resistance. There were all sorts of novel technologies proposed about pop-up isolation wards, or a ward in a bag, and other solutions one could just build and take away.
We trialled quite a few different solutions, but the one that impressed us the most was KwickScreen. Their product was a pop-up screen that went between beds to isolate one patient from another. The NHS ran a design competition at a central level, so a core team at the NHS got the expression of interest out and outlined the problem and the types of novel solutions they hoped to find. KwickScreen was one of those solutions put forward at that time.
A central NHS team then chose pilot hospitals to trial the solution, collect some research, and then industrialize it quickly. If it worked, our plan was to get it out across the entire NHS. That competition was a new approach, because typically it could take years to come up with a new product and get it fully deployed across the board.
With KwickScreen, the trials involved deploying a kit of several prototypes that were brought in to test and use. We had to ensure KwickScreen’s basic functionality was sound, make sure the solution stood up, did not fall over in use, or would not retract itself halfway through the night and wake people up.
At this point, KwickScreen became the clear front-runner and was instantly identified as the product best suited for our needs.
A Modern Solution to a Series of Modern Problems
At the time, KwickScreen was still a simple product since it was in its infancy. In a lot of ways, the innovation and evolution I have witnessed of KwickScreen is the same level I have seen across the medical industry. What began as a simple way to address the problems soon turned into something far bigger. We deployed a number of these screens at Barts Hospital in the children's ward, with artwork printed directly on them that matched some of the other artwork/branding we had within the pediatric environment.
It looked like an art installation. Not only do you create a better environment, but the solution provided more privacy along with it. That level of flexibility is essential, and it is something we only could have received with a product like KwickScreen.
Within the initial deployment of KwickScreen to hospitals, we saw a number of major benefits immediately. They were far simpler to clean for the staff. They were also easier to set up and take down for temporary rooms than other options. Furthermore, the screens supported lower proximity-based infection rates.
Before KwickScreen, we dealt with solutions that were wasteful and inefficient. After KwickScreen, we had a solution that was reusable, sustainably built, carefully crafted, and simple.
The Path to Change Is Never Ending
Now in my role in academia, we are already looking for ways we can use KwickScreen in the education space. You need to make sure you have control over that environment and ensure it is stimulating, pleasant, and safe. Students need to concentrate on content, and we hope KwickScreen might help us alleviate some common learning space distractions.
Likewise, we are thinking about basic applications around estates and maintenance, as well as with cleaning, security, and even event management. But education is a major focus for us moving forward. The same way they were tested in the healthcare environment, we need to get them into our education environment to work out what is next in terms of innovative deployment. We might be able to use them to assist with crowd control at big events, to screen front of house maintenance activity at short notice, or as interactive whiteboards that students can write on if required. Time will tell on that one.
But regardless of what type of space you talk about, or what purpose it will be used for, a solution like this needs to have a number of core qualities. It needs to be productive. It must be conducive to studying in education. If you are talking about a hospital, it needs to promote healing. Thanks to the inherent flexibility of KwickScreen, and the fact that it is a solution that can be used in almost any situation, we have been able to address a lot of these concerns, all at the same time.
Staff members, patients, and nearly everyone else in between in the medical industry have already enjoyed the advantages that KwickScreen has brought with it. The exciting thing is that we are only getting started.