The NHS Long Term Plan set out an ambition for all providers across acute, community and mental health settings to advance to a “core level of digitisation by 2024, including clinical and operational processes across all settings, locations and departments.” For the catering department this means scrutinising the ordering and delivery of patient meals as well as the management and operation of retail facilities.
It is astonishing to think that we live in a world where technology can do so much – we’ve got artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and apps to make all aspects of everyday life easier and more convenient; we’ve got more technology available at the touch of a screen than our ancestors would ever have dreamed of, and yet, in NHS hospitals it is still not unusual for patients to have to choose their next meal many hours – in some cases still even a whole day – before they will be eating it. Often it is not that the caterer cannot see the benefits of ditching this outdated and inefficient process in favour of an electronic system that will reduce the time lapse between the meal being ordered and delivered, help to reduce food waste and its associated costs and improve the patient meal experience. Often the problem lies in lack of budget, inability to convince the Trust of the benefits, and even resistance from the IT department that may be nervous about exposing the hospital’s wider technology infrastructure to risk by enabling access to wider user groups. Hospital Food + Service caught up with Datasym, supplier of the Menumark and Menumate products to healthcare providers, including the NHS, private hospitals and retirement living complexes, and found out about the latest developments that just may be capable of breaking down some of these barriers.
Datasym has now added Bring Your Own Device functionality, so patients can use their own smartphone, iPad or other device to order their own meals from their beds – or anywhere else within the hospital – at their own convenience. Datasym has partnered with WiFi Spark, which hosts the meal ordering platform as part of the hospital’s branded visitor WiFi experience. As a web-based solution it is accessible to all devices. Patients access by ‘snapping’ a QR code on their device that enables them to view the menus, including full nutritional and dietary information as well as an image of the dish before placing their order. Whether accessing via a personal device or a ward tablet, Datasym’s allergen management functionality will only present meals that are suitable for a patient’s dietary needs. This can link to the Patient Administration System (PAS) to automatically access dietary and allergen information for all patients, eliminating the time taken for ward staff to receive that data and input it manually, with the accompanying risk of human error.
BYOD brings even more flexibility, efficiency and enhanced benefits to the electronic patient meal ordering system. A major benefit for the hospital is that it reduces the cost, because multiple devices do not need to be ordered for the use of each ward.
Datasym believes that 30-40% of patients will typically be happy to order their own meals independently. Giving them the capability to do this without involving ward staff will reduce the time staff need to spend at the bedside. It also encourages the involvement of visiting family who are better placed to know what their relative likes/dislikes and can help to place their order rather than the ward hostess taking over this process. Orders placed are recorded on the ward tablet or even PC, so staff know which patients have not ordered and may need help or may have just forgotten.
The cut-off time for ordering food can be much closer to the service time. The exact lapse time will depend on the individual hospital and its style of service, but importantly, up until that cutoff time patients can change their mind about their meal choice, go back into the system and order something else – as many times as they wish. The patient will be notified of the meal ordering time window. Controls are also built in, so for instance ordering can be restricted to prevent patients from ordering several different options in case they don’t like their first choice when it arrives! Datasym launched BYOD at the HCA Forum in April to a lot of interest and is now lobbying parliament to highlight the antiquated systems and processes still in place at many NHS hospitals. The first site to go live will be the Royal Bolton Hospital.
Point of Sale (POS)
Datasym’s Menumark system also provides the hospital caterer with control over its retail operations. With sophisticated POS solutions already in use by large operators with multiple sites as well as single site restaurants, Datasym can meet the needs of most healthcare operations with ease. Efficiency in the retail operation is essential to control costs and react to changing prices, understand sales volumes and provide flexibility over payment solutions. The goal for many catering operations is to produce revenue for the hospital from the retail services provided so offering visitors and staff the services they expect and are familiar with is a must. “All of the building blocks for retail services from the high street are available to the hospital,” says Chris Jones, Managing Director. However, the willingness of hospital Trusts to open their sites to the latest technology varies tremendously, with some IT departments nervous about perceived security risks. The answer, says Chris, is not to block the advance of technology, because this restricts the caterer’s capability to improve efficiency, reduce wastage and generate revenue for the Trust. The answer is to ensure the proper controls are introduced to mitigate any risk from cybercrime. Failing to do this is holding back the progress of POS technology as well as chip & pin, which in turn limits the choice of payment type at the till, possibly even to just cash, which will restrict sales in a retail environment. Expecting a customer to go to the closest ATM to withdraw cash risks losing them to an alternative outlet – will they be bothered to walk back? Full POS solutions should ideally provide integrated chip & pin alongside contactless and new options such as Apple Pay and Google Pay as well as the ability to link with loyalty cards or even the hospital’s staff ID cards.
Using these cards as a payment wallet that staff can top-up as required with the value held within Menumark means staff discounts can be provided automatically. Self-service kiosks are another spin-off from the high street’s Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) sector – ie, the fast food giants – where speed of service is of the essence. Customers can place their order and pay for it at the kiosk, receive a ticket that they exchange at the counter for their food/drink, thus skipping the queues at till points. This service may be set up so it offers a restricted menu.
The theatre headache
For many hospitals providing food for theatre staff is a problem. These staff might not have time to get out of their scrubs and go to the staff canteen or restaurant to eat, so they order food to be delivered to the theatre. But without the ability to control the time food arrives it may end up uneaten and not paid for. Datasym has partnered with Preoday that links ordering with a delivery system. Staff download an app and log into a secure account. They order food from a dedicated list, which might not be the full menu available in the restaurant, select a time for delivery and pay at the point of order. Of course, the hospital needs to have the logistics to deliver food to multiple locations at specific times, but particular time slots can be made unavailable if they are already over-subscribed, a bit like supermarket home deliveries. Preoday could also be used for staff and patients on wards, which would see the patient meal and retail operations beginning to merge.
It’s not as catchy as: ‘When is a door not a door?’ (answer, when it’s a jar) but it speaks to the idea that in-car collection, and the technologies that support it, are flexible enough to bend to the needs of a business and its guests.
Delivery can be daunting to the uninitiated, and it might be tempting to sign up with a third-party ordering aggregator that offers the service, such as UberEats, but other options could suit your business and brand better. Here we present three different ‘levels’ of delivery, starting with the most basic – and cheapest method: doing it yourself.