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Clinical engagement is vital to enable GS1 standards adoption

Date: May 22, 2019

Category: Guest opinion piece

Author: Glen Hodgson

Following on from the 2019 GS1 UK Healthcare Conference, head of healthcare, Glen Hodgson shares insights on the importance of clinical engagement to GS1 standards adoption.

It had never really occurred to Chris Slater that finding a patient within a hospital could be a problem or a challenge. “I’d assumed that through the PAS [patient administration system] everyone knew where they were,” admits the associate director commercial and procurement at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

It’s not an unreasonable assumption. Why wouldn’t doctors or nurses be able to easily find out, via a computer, in which bed or department their patients were currently residing?

But as David Berridge, deputy chief medical officer at the organisation explains, the reality was very different. “When a physician was trying to track all their acute patients, two years ago that would have been a really difficult task – it was a ward round safari.”

It’s those couple of years back that the organisation introduced barcode scanning. Leeds is one of the Scan4Safety demonstrator sites, exploring how introducing GS1 standards might make a difference to the safety and efficiency of care. One important way: Mr Berridge anticipates the trust will imminently have “full 24/7 365 patient traceability”.

“That’s important for every member of staff in our trust,” he says. “Whether you are a porter, whether you are a ward receptionist, whether you are a receptionist in MR or CT or theatres, you will be able to know precisely where your patient is – to the bed level.”

The two colleagues shared their experiences at the 2019 GS1 UK Healthcare Conference, and in so doing provided a perfect illustration of one of the main lessons to emerge from the event. Namely: if transformation efforts in the NHS are to succeed, they will need to be tightly focused on the needs of the staff interacting with patients.

Such efforts includes the implementation of GS1 standards and barcode scanning, something all keynote speakers agreed held the potential to save both lives and money.

“Things like GS1 and other technology innovations are where – like in the aviation, nuclear, chemical industries – we can create a fail-safe, where you don't just exalt people: 'Don't put that wrong aortic stent in again'; you actually engineer out the risk,” argued Professor Sir Terence Stephenson, former chair of the General Medical Council.

He also saw the opportunity to support clinicians in more easily collecting the kind of information that informs research and treatment.

“We are awash with data, but in the health service we’re still very dependent on manual data entry. GS1 and techniques like it have a huge capacity to help us speed up data entry, saving doctors and nurses and therapists time.”

It was a vision supported by Matthew Swindells, deputy chief executive at NHS England. “GS1 fits into the wider long-term plan commitment that we will move to data capture as a byproduct of care, but more importantly that we will digitise the NHS. A core part of our strategy is that we will digitise the clinical process in a way that supports clinicians.”

To do that, conference speakers agreed, means – as Chris Slater put it – that “listening to clinicians is the start of the process”.

“This is not a technology project,” stressed Alan Foster, executive lead for North Cumbria and North East STP/ICS. “It needs to be clinically-led, because it’s about quality and safety as well as about value and efficiency.”

It was a point reinforced by Dr Graham Evans, North Cumbria and North East’s chief digital officer. “This is about heart and minds. What we’re trying to do in health and care in the transformation space is about 10% technology and 90% culture.

“It is incumbent on clinicians to describe the problems, then technologists can find solutions to those problems.” And one, it seems, could well be the greater embrace of barcodes.

About the author


Glen Hodgson is Head of Healthcare at GS1 UK. He is charged with supporting the NHS and the healthcare industry to deliver greater efficiency and a more robust approach to patient safety.

With over 20 years of national and international experience, Glen has served at board level in a variety of operational and commercial roles within complex organisational structures inside the pharmaceutical/healthcare arena.

See more highlights from this year's conference