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Digital Care Home

Digital technology is already being used very successfully by hospital and other health services across County Durham and Darlington to offer more effective and convenient care - transforming the experience of many patients. 

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust was one of the first trusts to recognise the potential benefits of digital technology, working with Harrogate-based digital health specialists, Inhealthcare Limited, to combine their digital product, Health Call, with the clinical expertise of medical and other health specialists. 

So successful was this award-winning collaboration that around 18 months ago, the Trust established Healthcall Solutions Limited, to further develop the opportunities for a digital approach to aspects of patient care.  Shares in the company were also awarded to neighbouring NHS acute trusts in return for active participation and collaboration.

Care Home

The latest ambitious project using HealthCall is The Digital Care Home, a joint initiative between the Trust, the local authorities of County Durham and Darlington, and the clinical commissioning groups of North Durham, Darlington and Durham Dales Easington Sedgefield, and Health Call. 

Malcolm Walker, Managing Director for Community Services at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, explains, "It can sometimes be difficult to tell when an elderly care home resident is starting to become unwell as there may be no obvious signs.  This can mean that the first indication something is wrong is when the resident has become really quite unwell resulting in the care home staff, understandably, requesting a GP or district nurse visit, or phoning for an ambulance.  

"An emergency admission to hospital for this group of patients can be stressful and even distressing.  Unfamiliar routines, food and environments can be difficult to adapt to, especially for patients with dementia, but also for any frail elderly person.  The negative impact can sometimes be long term. 

"Working with our health and social care partners, we initially piloted the use of HealthCall to monitor residents in a number of care homes.  The project equips care home staff with the skills and technology to help identify patients who are starting to become unwell.    We train the staff to take basic but vital patient observations, such as blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturations, temperature and respiratory rates.  They then use the technology to report the results electronically via the HealthCall app, and through to the electronic patient record. 

"The system recognises results outside the normal range and flags them for the attention of the local nursing team.  They may request the observations are repeated, should be taken more regularly, or advise the care home staff to take other action.   Sometimes an elderly patient might start to become unwell slowly and gradually, with no very obvious signs to cause concern.  Taking their observations routinely, helps identify early when this is happening, meaning that there is an improved chance of avoiding a crisis for the patient, and therefore reducing the need for 999 phone calls and a visit to A&E, or a hospital admission.

 "We're delighted with how successful the Digital Care Home is proving to be and it's exciting to be pioneers in a project that's already having huge benefits.  We're very grateful to our health and social care partners, including GPs, Dales Federation and, of course, the care home owners and staff, for their collaboration and for sharing our vision in recognising the benefits for our patients."

 Manor House Care Home in Barnard Castle, part of Anchor, was the first care home to use the technology.  Manager, Lynn Cuthbertson, said, "We didn't hesitate to agree to participate because the advantages were clear to us - especially for residents but also for our staff.  We take the observations of every new resident when they join us and submit this electronically to their patient records, so that if we start to become concerned at any point and take further readings, the two can be compared. It's a very clear way to identify any change or deterioration.  We get to know our residents very well but having this baseline assessment means that if we suspect one of them is even slightly under the weather, we can perform and submit the observations at any time, knowing that any anomaly will be flagged and we'll get a call, which is both reassuring and efficient. Using HealthCall we simply submit the information and get on with our work, knowing a clinician will review the readings and decide what if any action to take. 

"The technology is very easy to use, around 12 of us received the training and we're all comfortable with it.  The process is now part of our daily routine." 

Malcolm Walker said, "The project is already showing measureable results with a reduction in the number of visits from community nurses/VWAS and community specialist practitioners  to the care homes involved in the pilot by up to 36% and a reduction in admission rates by between 20 - 30%.   We're now rolling the system out across all care homes in County Durham and Darlington and there are also plans to roll it out across the North East and North Cumbria.


Published 19th August 2019



'In recent times, I have utilised admissions to Richardson for respite direct from my fracture clinic, even at weekends. I have never worked anywhere with this efficiency before - it is reassuring and invaluable for the patient.'

Patient, Lowson / Starling Wards, Richardson Hospital