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£1.8m to identify at-risk patients

New measures: Funding will help researchers and clinicians find new ways of measuring patients' health

New measures: Funding will help researchers and clinicians develop an early warning system to notify when patients’ health deteriorates

Researchers and clinicians from Portsmouth and Oxford have won £1.8m funding to develop an electronic early warning system which recognises when hospital patients’ health deteriorates.

The project is a major step towards digital hospitals in which all sources of patient information are interlinked and available to healthcare staff, ensuring better patient safety.

Early warning signs that a patient is deteriorating currently rely on nurses recognising ‘out of range’ values for the vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, all of which are measured regularly on the wards.

The new approach will allow other values, such as blood test results or previous medical history, to be included in the assessment creating a better overall picture of each patient. Previous work has shown that specific at-risk patients can be identified up to 24 hours earlier using this method.

The collaboration combines expertise and resources from Queen Alexandra Hospital and the University of Portsmouth, and NHS and academic partners in Oxford to come up with a new approach to identifying faster those patients at higher risk of needing intensive care faster.

The research team includes clinicians, researchers and computer scientists will combine patient information recorded during a hospital stay to develop computer algorithms that describe an evidence-based model of normality. From these, it will be possible to identify how far from ‘normal’ any patient is at any one time, and those most at risk of deterioration can be flagged for more urgent review. The electronic system will become an important decision-making tool helping hospital staff plan their workload, and allow hospital managers to direct resources to areas of most need.

Dr Jim Briggs, at the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Healthcare Modelling and Informatics, is part of the team developing the new system.

He said: “It is important that the information already collected in hospital information systems is used to maximum advantage to the patient. The project will extend the range of information that can be used to monitor deteriorating patients, which will have a significant impact on patient safety.”

The award has been made by the Health Innovation Challenge Fund, a funding partnership between the Wellcome Trust and the Department of Health to stimulate the creation of innovative healthcare products, technologies and interventions and to facilitate their development for the benefit of patients in the NHS and beyond.

The team from Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust is led by Dr Greta Westwood and includes Professor David Prytherch, clinical outcomes researcher.

Professor Prytherch said: “This system will combine routinely collected clinical data, currently stored on different hospital computers, into a single ‘index’ to identify deteriorating patients more quickly and so enable a faster clinical response.”

The amount of data and information gathered about patients during even routine screening and diagnostics processes is increasing rapidly as new technologies become available and greater computing power enables more data to be captured and stored quickly and inexpensively.

The team’s chief investigator is Dr Peter Watkinson, a consultant in intensive care and acute medicine at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.

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