Case study: Birmingham Children's Hospital adopts Unify teleconferencing

Birmingham Children's Hospital installs teleconferencing system in intensive care department to accelerate critical referrals and emergency procedures

Telephone systems act as the heart of many businesses, ensuring lines of communication between company and customer.

But, as important as communication is to every sector, it is no more imperative than when used in healthcare, where life and death situations can be tackled in a single phone call.

Birmingham Children’s Hospital is one such centre, where telephony changes lives.

The hospital serves over 240,000 patients a year and is known for its leading specialists in areas such as heart surgery and liver surgery. However, it also acts as a hub for the surrounding 20 district hospitals with a 31-bed paediatric intensive care unit at the city centre site.  

As part of this specialist care, a unit was set up in 2009, the Kids Intensive Care and Decision Support (Kids) service. This communication department enables hospitals to contact Birmingham when they received particularly ill babies, children or young people and seek advice from specialist doctors and nurses on their care, or to establish whether they needed to be transferred to the unit.

"All of the district hospitals are likely to have a children's ward and most will have an accident and emergency department," says Phil Wilson, lead nurse for Kids. "But the reality is some need to be transferred or get more expert advice and as a result, our service is critical."

Expansion brings opportunity for improvement

The Kids service runs a 24-hour operation, with a dedicated team of seven - as well as the doctors and nurses that get involved - based in a callcentre type environment. When it first opened five years ago, there was a strong working relationship between the staff and the hospital's IT department to ensure it got what was needed for a telephone system.

"We built a system that used the same technology as the wider hospital switchboard and it worked very well," says Wilson. "But as the service grew and expanded, we were relocated into our own building behind the hospital and had the opportunity to build a new system and look at next generation communications."

The previous system used technology from Unify - formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications - and having trusted its previous technology, Kids and the IT department looked to the firm again for a new system.

"We started a two-year journey with all of us working together to decide on the best solution," says Wilson. "Employees from Unify visited us to sit in the centre and experience what our needs were and we sent representatives to their headquarters in Milton Keynes to get experiences of the technologies that were on offer."

The key aspects needed for the new system were that it had to be efficient and reliable as, when Kids is taking 10 to 20 phone calls an hour with sick children, there is no room for mistakes.

All parties agreed on installing Unify's OpenScape Xpert system - the first installation in a European healthcare institution by the supplier. The multi-line communication system is based on IP networks for modern, speedy connections, but also works alongside SIP (session initiation protocol), enabling businesses to integrate legacy systems into the units.

The unit itself is simple to use for conferencing, in hundreds of lines if necessary. The hardware incorporates a customisable touchscreen for quick and easy access - something Wilson says made the system “enjoyable to use” for staff.

Installation first began in November 2013 and the IT department spent a few months working out configurations and how it could be used best by Kids. However, in February 2014, the service went live to users and the team have been very pleased with the results so far.

"I was a bit anxious about the transition and I didn’t want our critical service to be interrupted," says Wilson. "However, the transition went very well and, although it has only been a month since the switchover, the early signs are encouraging."

Flexibility and speed vital to emergency paediatrics

One of the best elements of the new system is the ability for doctors and nurses to join or leave a call without the entire conference having to hang up and start over again, as was the case with the previous system.

The nature of the calls means they are not planned and the system has coped well with working instantaneously to get everyone on the call.

"These are emergency calls with some participants needed all the way through, some needed for certain elements and some needed to drop in and out," says Wilson.

"My early observations show this process happens more smoothly as it was designed specifically for this, and it lets these people with busy agendas, from initial participants to specialist surgeons, have a more streamlined and flexible service."

David Marshall, head of IT at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, is equally as pleased with the roll-out and hopes it will have a big effect, not just on his hospital, but others around the UK.

"This solution will not only benefit Birmingham Children’s Hospital but will allow the referring hospitals who ring the Kids service to benefit from more efficient handling of emergency paediatric calls," he says.

"We are incredibly well-positioned for the future, and with these next-generation technologies Birmingham Children’s Hospital is really setting the standard for other children’s hospitals in the country to follow in highly responsive patient care.” 

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