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Last November the National Information Board released a report that set out a vision for how technology should work harder and better for patients and citizens by 2020. The report highlighted the need to give care professionals and carers access to all the data, information and knowledge they need – in real time – and the requirement to improve mobile technology to make care outside of the hospital environment easier.

Care is increasingly being moved away from hospitals into patients’ own homes. Community healthcare organisations, however, are finding their budgets and staff numbers are reducing, leaving community health leaders increasingly concerned about how to maintain and improve levels of care.

Whilst the challenge of identifying a cost effective way of delivering quality care to the public in the face of budget cuts and funding gaps is not new, the potential of technology in this scenario is yet to be realised.

Technology is vital to unlocking the greater efficiencies community healthcare organisations need to deliver, while maintaining, and wherever possible, improving levels of patient care.

At Vodafone, we believe the National Information Board report – which outlines ambitions to use technology to improve care outside of hospitals and provide access to digital tools and real time data – is moving healthcare in the right direction. And our latest research echoes this sentiment. Seventy percent of healthcare leaders believe providing community nurses with full access to information whilst in the community is a high priority aim.

Giving community healthcare professionals access to data and information is critical. It seems obvious to say that mobile technology can enable access to information, patient records and systems at point of care. However it is yet to be adopted on a mass scale. Encouragingly, over three-quarters of healthcare leaders believe increased use of new technologies is one of the most important factors for enabling progress in community healthcare.

For healthcare providers to maximise the amount of time they spend delivering care to patients, they need to be able to streamline processes. Administration, paperwork and travelling to and from the office eat into valuable time that could be spent in patient homes delivering care.

The use of secure mobile devices means frontline workers can update records from wherever they are, reducing both travel time and duplication. The latest Circle research for Vodafone found that community health workers spend an average of one day per week on administration; a burden that is leading to increased frustration, longer working hours and reduced time with patients.

Secure access to data is vital

While the healthcare sector can greatly benefit from technology, it is important to consider security, especially when dealing with patient information. Providing secure access to information allows field workers to spend more time where they need to be, make better decisions in the moment and improve services to individuals and the community.

2014 Ponemon survey discovered that 30 per cent of data breaches were related to a negligent employee or contractor, highlighting the importance of protection against insider threats and human error. Beyond this, unsecured mobile devices or laptops can pose a huge risk if the devices are lost or stolen.

In any scenario where employees use mobile devices for work that hold and access sensitive data, it is important to uphold stringent security on the three main integration points - the device, the content/application layer and the network - and put measures in place to control how employees can access and use data. It is also important to educate employees, making them aware of their obligations and responsibilities in keeping information secure and mitigating risk where possible.

Developing and implementing the right security framework for an organisation is the most important step to ensuring patient information is handled securely, privacy is upheld and organisations have control over how data is accessed, used and stored. It is important, therefore, to adopt an enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution – encompassing the management of devices, applications and content and network – with robust security built-in which in turn provides the flexibility and control IT departments need to ensure information is accessed by devices securely.

 This will enable IT departments to identify:

  • What mobile devices are accessing data and if they are secure
  • Who is using each device
  • What applications are on the mobile devices and if they have potential to corrupt the network

The answers to these questions will then enable IT departments to set the appropriate security parameters for sharing, accessing and storing information, based on employees’ behaviours and requirements of their job, type of device and operating system. For example, IT departments can block users from taking and sharing a screen shot of a document when they are connected to a network that is deemed unsafe.

Device management solutions also provide organisations with extra layers of security, such as restricting devices so they can only connect via a VPN. Device management solutions also allow IT teams to remotely lock and wipe devices if they are lost or stolen as well as ensure high level data encryption. All of these measures ultimately provide greater flexibility, visibility as well as confidence that the right level of security is being met.

Technology can deliver leaders’ top priorities

The perceived benefits of adopting new technology would deliver against community health leaders’ top three priority aims: improving the quality of frontline services, making it easier to access information on the frontline, helping ensure compliance with legislation. However the full potential is still not being realised as adoption is slow.

Where healthcare organisations have rolled out mobile technology to frontline workers (such as Health Visitors, Community and District Nurses), efficiency and patient experience has improved, and there is demonstrable return on investment.

For example, NHS Blackpool, which has mobilised all of the 700 – 800 staff members in its domiciliary teams, is using tablets to provide carers with secure access to patient records whenever and wherever. This not only enables them to save time going back to the office so they can spend more time with patients, but more importantly helps them provide more informed and greater quality care. 

NHS Blackpool initially anticipated that domiciliary nurses would save an hour a day in travel and administration time – a time saving that is re-invested in extra patient visits. In reality, each of NHS Blackpool’s domiciliary team is able to see 1-2 more patients each day.

Travel costs have also reduced with one team saving £4,000 per month. Even in teams where travel costs have remained flat (such as Health Visitors), productivity has increased by 54 per cent. The teams are also seeing more patients and time spent on paperwork has vastly reduced.

NHS Blackpool is expecting to see a continued reduction in hospital admissions as the same number of workers are able to visit a greater number of patients at home, crucially without putting patients at risk.

The technology has also had a positive impact on the way patient feedback is gathered. Insights can now be collected on a tablet app at the point of care, then aggregated and interrogated in real time. This replaces a slow and time intensive paper-based process where surveys had to be manually entered into the database once they had been completed and returned by patients. As a result, NHS Blackpool now has the ability to pick up on any areas of concern very quickly though real-time dashboards.

Technological transformation

Like NHS Blackpool, other hospitals and community-based care organisations are set to benefit from implementing mobile technology. Not only do mobile devices allow for community nurses to work on the go, they also improve efficiency, productivity and ultimately allow more quality time with a greater number of patients.  Not only does adopting mobile technology improve patient care, it comes with the added benefit of improving employee morale across healthcare organisations.

*Research conducted by Circle Research, surveying 45 community healthcare senior decision makers in September 2014

Mick Wayman is Head of Public Sector at Vodafone UK

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