Digitised hospital logistics improve patient flow and patient experience

Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary is in southern Scotland, and was one of the first hospitals in the UK to use Columna Flow. Benefits already include a more efficient patient journey, better overview and greater staff empowerment.

  • Lack of overview caused ineffective use of resources  
  • The service organisation could not keep up with patient flow and demands from the departments
  • Poor understanding of and from daily operations 
  • An extremely user-friendly system that operates with automatic distribution of service task to teams throughout the hospital 
  • A system that provides clinical staff, service staff and service management with a relevant and fully transparent view of tasks to be performed
  • A system with easy access to task data and detailed reporting for business insights 
  • Data overview resulting in optimised organisation of porters to suit department needs
  • Improved service delivery and patient flow
  • Empowerment of porters, leading to more commitment and teamwork
  • System can be expanded to cover more hospital functions

De-centralisation and nurses doing the porter’s job

Until the summer of 2019, Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary (DGRI) had a service organisation that was characterised by the porters working in silos. Some were allocated to specific departments, while others worked throughout the hospital. Service managers found it hard to maintain their overview of tasks and available porters. One department that suffered deeply was the X-Ray Department, which depends on porters bringing and picking up patients at the right times to maintain their appointment schedule and avoid waiting times. However, the porters could not keep up with the volume of patients at peak times, which led to nurses spending time transporting patients instead of doing their own work. This had a major influence on machine utilisation and patient flow.

The hospital therefore needed a system that provided an insight into daily operations and improved collaboration between porters and nurses – Columna Flow was chosen as being able to fulfil the need. Columna Flow went live in August 2019 at DGRI, and the hospital experienced significant improvements within the very first month.

Careful preparation and successful implementation 

The new system meant that porters and nurses had to adjust to a new way of working together. Fortunately, the transition went as planned, thanks to careful preparation work by both hospital and Systematic.

What we did before we went live was to get our supervisors trained on the system. We let the porters play with the system and we trained the clinical staff. The system is very intuitive, not difficult to use at all, which is what people like about it. Not even a month after we got the go ahead from our IT Department, it was up and running – it was really quick, explains Angela Brown, Support Service Manager at DGRI.


X-Ray Department experiences significant improvements

X-Ray, the department that suffered most from the lack of overview and coordination before implementation of Columna Flow, was also one of the departments that experienced the biggest improvements, and has since been able to finish all scheduled patients for the day before closing time. Something that was impossible before.

“We (the service organisation) were really struggling to get our patients down to the department – not because of lack of porters – just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Our X-Ray Department absolutely love the system […] our service has improved immensely since implementation,” says Angela. Columna Flow enables nurses to plan ahead and register patient transports, allowing porters to prioritise their tasks to fit the needs of the departments throughout the day.


Data provides a clear overview

Columna Flow provides full documentation and overview of all service tasks, providing full insight for managers into daily tasks, and to identify peak and lower demand periods for porters. DGRI quickly experienced the benefits from data insight, as Angela explains: “We used to have staff on every day from 9 to 3 o’clock, but that’s not actually when we need them. We discovered that we need staff from 10 to 5 o’clock. So, we’ve been able to change our way of working to make our service more efficient and more effective, which makes the patient journey better.” Similarly, it quickly became evident, that there were not enough tasks to keep porters working at night busy, so it was decided to push routine tasks to the night watch. This enabled porters during the day to prioritise patient related tasks and other ad hoc tasks.

The porters also engaged in the new insights and came up with input for changes: “…the porters asked us if we could make a few changes to things like the time we scheduled for repetitive tasks. And because we were able to do so, they felt listened-to and empowered,” explains Angela. The new system has enabled managers to involve porters and benefit from their tactical knowledge of how the hospital works.

Implementing to other ‘mobile services’ across the hospital

DGRI is already exploring other service areas and functions that could benefit from using Columna Flow. One example is the phlebotomists, the clinicians responsible for taking blood samples, who visit all the different wards and patients. Angela sees considerable potential for this function to start using Columna Flow, and explains their ongoing plans: “Our Supplies Department is also looking to use it, and ultimately we would like our Cleaning Services to be on the system, because that module seems to work really well too.”

DGRI is very satisfied with the new system and the benefits experienced across the hospital. “It allows us to plan better and to see where things can be improved. Ultimately, patient flow is much improved,” concludes Angela.

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Northern General Hospital in Borders are also currently using the solution, while hospitals in Glasgow and Dundee are going live with Columna Flow during Fall 2020, followed by hospitals in Edinburgh and Fife during Spring 2021.