SPECIAL REPORT: Next Generation Nurse Call Systems

The majority of nurse call systems installed in care homes today have advanced little from the days when a bell was placed next to a bed for a resident to ring. To upgrade to a modern solution can seem like a daunting, expensive and complicated project.

But the investment in today’s sophisticated nurse call systems can quickly start to be repaid as they streamline the allocation of scarce resources and give residents more control over their daily lives. They can quickly contribute to the industry-wide drive to boost productivity within care homes whilst improving the daily lives of residents.

Operating a nurse call system over a standard internet protocol network can greatly simplify installation, and also allows for the system to speak to other applications that use the same protocol.

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Wandsworth Healthcare launched its first IP-based nurse call system eight years ago, and has been upgrading its functionality and its integration with other systems in hospitals and care homes ever since. “We recently launched our latest version of the IPiN Evolution, which continues our drive to innovate and utilise an IP platform to allow integration with third party software,” explains Ben Davies, marketing manager of Wandsworth Healthcare.

Wandsworth says that the increasing sophistication of Internet Protocol (IP ) technology, and the ability to connect nurse call equipment to a variety of mobile devices, now allows the incorporation of many other features that improve the resident experience, enable a quicker response from nursing staff and provide managers the ability to monitor, record and analyse the care being provided.

“Nurse call systems have been transformed into integrated problem-solving tools, without compromising their basic patient-care functionality,” says Davies.

“The Nurse call systems of today offer a high level of integration with the patient environment, working together with third-party hardware and software systems to give patients a high degree of control over their immediate environment, for example, the ability to adjust room temperature, open or close blinds or curtains, interact with an entertainment system or to adjust the room lighting or bed position to suit their individual and changing needs,” Davies continues.

“Giving patients the ability to adjust their own environment also frees nurses from the need to respond to the many non-clinical patient calls. This allows them to spend more time addressing the clinical needs of their patients.  Giving the patient more independence also has the effect of raising their self-esteem, relieving stress and making them feel more comfortable,” he adds.

The newest IPiN Evolution system is also cheaper to maintain and service because it speaks directly to third party support companies via the internet. “Providing live fault diagnosis so the teams can view, respond and repair, quicker to any faults and ensuring these faults are quickly resolved, meaning shorter down periods and patient care is not compromised,” Davies explains.

Medicare Systems already has its nurse call solution in use by over 100,000 care home residents in the UK, and is also increasing the functionality of its offering. Its HTM Wireless system can be used throughout a care home including bedrooms, bathrooms and dining rooms. Its key aim is, of course, to ensure resident calls are responded to immediately. But it also wants precious staff time to be used efficiently, so it places considerable importance on monitoring and reporting their movement.

The HTM 4100 touch screen displays, which are available as 7-inch and 15-inch sizes, are simple to use and allow managers to see any zone of their homes in real time.  All calls and events are time- and date-stamped, and reports can be generated to show response times from call to attendance, with each member of staff identified by their ID fobs.

“Modern Systems offer so much more than just showing when a resident has made a call. That information and responses made by staff can now be analysed by managers and owners not just for proof of efficiency, but to identify trends and behaviour patterns,” explains Derek Timoney, managing director for Modern Systems.

The company points to its rich heritage of radio-based wireless technology, which has been tried and tested by healthcare and care home operators for decades, but is always improving thanks to the feedback of its customers. “Our HTM Range of Nurse Call products has become the leading choice of many of the care home groups, it is simple to use but has all the features that you would expect from a company has that been at the forefront of radio technology for many years,” says Timoney.

Key to its success is ease of use, Timoney believes. “Technology is a great thing but if you can’t use it then it’s useless,” he says.

And, when considering a new or replacement nurse call system, he has three simple questions that a care home should ask: “Does it have proven reliability? Is it future-proof and upgradeable to suit changing plans? And, is it cost effective?”

Like Wandsworth, Modern Systems also presses care homes to ensure that their call system speaks to other key applications in use within a home. “Integration with other technologies is vital and becoming standard now with our product. These technologies include, paging, phone systems,  care plan software, access and door systems, fire alarms, assistive technology systems, epilepsy monitoring, to name just a few,” he says.

Another advocate for two-way radio wireless for nurse call systems is Aid Call. The company has recently released Touchsafe Pro, which is designed to communicate within a care home more reliably than older wireless system thanks to the use of XBee wireless mesh network technology that directs all calls via the quickest and safest route because each device acts as a communicative node.

“Touchsafe Pro is the newest system on the market. It is the product of our increased R&D investment and reflects our ambition to remain abreast with the ever-changing demands facing the care sector, including the growing prevalence of dementia,” says Aid Call marketing coordinator Sarah Hunt.

A key selling point of Touchsafe Pro is its alert system that links to equipment monitoring residents’ issues around the clock. Aid Call systems are compatible with a wide range of telecare devices that provide support and give independence to patients with more debilitating conditions. These include pendants, movement sensors, pressure mats, epilepsy monitors and environmental sensors.

The devices, linked to the nurse call system, can automatically raise alarms without the resident needing to make a call themselves. “For instance, an enuresis mat that is placed on the mattress will react to the presence of moisture and will instantly raise an alert. As well as allowing staff to respond discreetly to a potentially sensitive issue, it eliminates concern over residents who refrain from making such a call through embarrassment or fear of being a nuisance. This responsive technology allows care teams to support residents who may not have the necessary cognitive ability to utilise a standard nurse call system, Hunt explains.

Other peripherals include door monitors that raise an alert when an armed door has been opened. This can warn staff when patients have strayed away from where they should be.

“The system allows residents or staff to alert others to an emergency situation from any call point on site. It indicates the nature of the call, its location and displays concise medical notes to ensure the response is both quick and efficient. It encourages better staff-to-staff and resident-to-staff communication and reassures residents that help is always nearby,” Hunt says.

Aid Call points out that it isn’t just residents that need round-the-clock support – the care home management does as well. The company aims to provide peace of mind throughout the pre-sales advice process, the installation, and the years in which a system will be used. “Alongside our experience and knowledge of the market place, Aid Call works with architects, consultants, hospitals, hospices and care homes to deliver durable healthcare solutions. Importantly, we support our customers throughout the life of our equipment with 24/7/365 customer service, extensive maintenance contracts and progressive technological updates,” says Stuart Barclay, Aid Call’s business development manager.

Telecommunications specialist GHM Communications aims to help care homes build much greater reliability and flexibility into IP-based nurse call systems. The company’s main focus in the coming year is to help operators port their call systems to smartphones and tablets.  “GHM Communications can now provide the technology to receive nurse call alerts, from any nurse call provider, directly to a smartphone or tablet. So carers no longer need pagers, wall lights or to be based in a central office to know who has triggered an alarm and where,” explains GHM managing director Neil McManus.

“We use a powerful messaging platform delivering and managing critical alarm and messaging requirements for up to 100 users. We basically combine your communication systems and nurse call devices. This allows messages and alerts to transfer to the appropriate people, or control the equipment, or raise alarms on or off site. The platform is easy to set up with no input from your nurse call provider required,” he adds.

For care home futurologists, GHM is even offering to integrate call systems wearable technologies for staff such as smart watches, allowing alerts to be delivered to a hands free device.

Accessing call systems on mobile screens of all sizes can deliver considerable savings for operators, GHM suggests. “Having a member of staff stuck in a central office monitoring a nurse call wall board is a large drain on resources when that member of staff could be multi-tasking elsewhere,” McManus points out.

He urges care homes to look at the benefits of integration, and make it part of a comprehensive plan for residents and staff. “It is not about integration for integration’s sake. True integration makes it easier to share information, disseminate information and automate information, reducing the burden on the carer and delivering a better level of care,” McManus suggests.

“Think of it as ‘joining the dots’ – the ‘dots’ being all of the tasks and devices a carer deals with day to day, whether it is bleepers, telephones, paperwork or managing different maintenance contracts. By joining these dots, the carer gets a much more streamlined approach to their day’s work and the resident gets to enjoy the end result,” he concludes.

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