How to enable the NHS’ Digital Future

June 8, 2020



Debbie Preece, UK country manager, PowerGistics, offers guidance to NHS Trusts looking to implement mobile technology on the frontline – including practical advice on how to optimise workspaces to deliver the best care.

The importance of technology to the future of the NHS cannot be understated. Early last year, the government rolled out the NHS Long Term Plan, which provided the blueprint for a 10-year digital transformation strategy, setting the wheels in motion for significant digital transformation projects at hospital Trusts across the UK.

Often multi-million-pound investments, the fundamental purpose is to transform the way staff work and improve the patient experience.

On the one hand, the changes will be largely invisible to the public. Upgrading back-office IT or telephone networks, for example, are important steps, but it is at the sharp end of patient care where the resulting benefits will be seen most clearly.

For frontline staff, the use of mobile devices, supported by robust software services, will enable them to share information more easily, identify risks faster, and make what could well be life-changing decisions more easily. Being able to have instant access to things like medical records will allow for faster diagnoses and treatments while alleviating the need for lengthy note-taking and handovers that have become a by-product of the paper-based processes that exist today. Simply put, clinicians can spend more time doing what they do best; treating people.

Connecting people

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought another critical aspect of mobile device usage into focus. The forced isolation of patients from their family and friends during treatment has meant a reliance on mobile devices to keep in touch. Examples of patients using mobile devices to keep in touch loved ones have been a crucial point of contact in, particularly difficult circumstances. The appreciation staff on the frontline have felt in being able to offer such a service must also not be underestimated.

At first glance, it may seem that digital transformation is about doing away with hardware. But on the frontline, it actually means the opposite. The influx of mobile devices on hospital wards does, however, bring its own challenges. And it is only right that this is addressed before they reach the frontline.

A younger workforce will likely welcome an increased use of applications and mobile devices, as it matches their experience and expectations for life outside of work. However, there are naturally others who will see any change as unwelcome, unnecessary, and unfamiliar.

Formal training programmes will without doubt alleviate these concerns, but it is when changes are formally rolled out on the frontline that pressure will be greatest.

There is also a fear that staff using the same device might spread infection, so storing them with the means to wipe down and become thoroughly clean will also be the new normal. The need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is universally understood. Infection cannot creep through via a shared mobile device.

Efficient workspaces

What frontline healthcare workers do not need is another thing to worry about. And keeping track of these devices – not least due to the cost – will no doubt give staff cause for concern. Not only that but just like a personal device such as a mobile phone, keeping track of battery life so that they don’t fail you at a crucial moment is also of paramount importance.

This means that hospital wards and workstations will need to change to accommodate an influx of new devices, in a way that minimises the impact on care providers.

There is a problem with the phrase ‘digital transformation’, in that it has become a catch-all saying that may end up saying nothing at all. The NHS Long Term Plan has some aspirational ambitions, but there is an argument to be made that the practicality of using mobile devices on the frontline is being overlooked.

Hospitals that have adapted to the workstation of the future have championed the increased efficiency, the reduction in clutter, and the confidence to use mobile devices without fear of repercussions. But perhaps most importantly (and least surprising) is the change that mobile devices bring to patient care.

For staff working on the frontline, the order is crucial. No two days are the same, so the increase in mobile devices cannot disrupt what are often delicate – and very deliberately designed – workstations. This is why the digital future for hospitals must never lose sight of the fundamental fact that doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare providers must be confident that mobile devices will always enable them, rather than be a drain on time, space, and efficiency.

Enabling digital transformation

The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the NHS is huge – and it remains too soon to draw any firm conclusions.

But what the coronavirus has done is brought greater focus on the importance of mobile devices and shown that not only will they improve care, but connect people as well. When the virus began to take hold, hospitals were quick to adapt floorspace to increase capacity for ICU and COVID 19 wards. This, more than anything, demonstrated the need for more efficient workspaces. When no other means of contact was possible, mobile devices meant patients could keep in touch with loved ones. And that is extremely powerful.

These advancements will come with a heavy price if the staff is given one more thing to worry about charging, storing, and maintaining in and around their workspaces. It is this fundamental fact that must be addressed before the digital revolution can truly take hold.

Staff across the NHS have demonstrated amazing levels of adaptability in order to beat the virus and showed that, above all, their focus is on providing the best patient care possible.