University of Bristol works with hospital staff to improve COVID patient monitoring

University of Bristol PhD candidate Marceli Wac with the patient monitoring syst
University of Bristol PhD candidate Marceli Wac with the patient monitoring system

Recognising the enormity of the challenges faced by the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts from the University of Bristol have created a data monitoring system to help hospital staff as they care for patients.

One of the greatest challenges facing Intensive Care Units (ICUs) is the need to track and monitor test results, vital signs and patient trajectories. By working directly with clinical staff from University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW), Bristol University developed an operational data dashboard to be used in hospital ICUs.

“We reached out to the local hospitals at the start of the pandemic when they were under intense pressure and it quickly became clear that a clinical data dashboard would be of immense help,’ says Professor Ian Craddock, who together with Dr Chris McWilliams and second year postgraduate student Marceli Wac, volunteered to be seconded to the local NHS.

The clinical data dashboard they developed has been in use at Bristol Royal Infirmary’s ICU since the summer of 2020. It collates data from existing clinical information systems and presents it in an accessible form, allowing clinicians to view details as required, whether taking an overview of all patients across multiple wards, or filtering results per ward or physiological parameter, through to detailed views of individual patients.

Crucially, clinical staff are able to see a graphical representation of the patient’s status over time, in real time, with indications of trends and formatted medical notes.

“The interface was designed with usability in mind,’ says Professor Craddock, University Lead on Digital Health. “We gathered the software requirements through remote conversations with doctors, nurses and consultants, so that we could fully understand their daily routines and the pressures they face. That way, we were able to develop something that would improve efficiency and patient safety at a time of immense pressure.’

Evaluations of the dashboard conducted since last October show that it has already proved an effective tool in helping clinicians to care for a large influx of patients in the current wave of infection.

"We can now see trends in important parameters with an intuitive user interface, helping us identify problems earlier,’ said Chris Bourdeaux, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the Trust. “The dashboard was designed with clinicians involved at every stage. It has resulted in a product that’s fine tuned to the needs of doctors who are caring for patients during a global pandemic. Hopefully it can be utilised beyond UHBW when, in the future, ICUs are digitised."

As a result of working on the project, Marceli Wac, a second year student with Bristol’s EPSRC-funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Health and Care, has decided to focus his PhD on intensive healthcare. He said: “I was very excited to put my skills to use and contribute to fighting the global pandemic. I’ve not only gained further appreciation for healthcare, I’ve realised the importance of early user involvement in the process of building software in the clinical environment.’

As a result of this partnership, the University plans to explore future funded research including a new Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award, which will be a more formal collaboration between the Bristol ICU and Bristol University. Dr McWilliams, from the Department of Engineering Mathematics, said: "We will be using a similar software architecture to deliver algorithmic decision support to clinicians at the point of care. What we have learned during this COVID-19 response project will inform at lot of that work."

“I think that pulling this together in such a short time is a fine example of the capability and spirit of the staff and students,’ added Professor Craddock, who is also Director of the CDT.