How mobile technology is helping to transform community healthcare

For many people, the National Health Service (NHS) is the pride of Britain, an emblem of care and equality that we proudly present to the world. It is a fundamental part of UK society and because of that it can often create some very strong emotions.

However, the strain on NHS services is growing. This is due to a range of reasons from the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes, to mental illness, addiction, ageing populations and chronic diseases. Frontline community healthcare organisations are being asked to do more and more, delivering more services within the community as hospitals are under increasing pressure as they experience a sharp rise in the number of patients.

To back this up, our survey of senior community healthcare leaders carried out with our partner Circle Research, found organisations were struggling to cope with the  combination of an increased demand for services, severe budget cuts and an influx of legislation and regulation.

The burden of bureaucracy appears to be a particularly heavy one, with nurses now spending an average of one day per week on administration. This leads to increased frustration, longer working hours and reduced contact time with patients. Research by the Royal College of Nursing recently discovered that four in ten nurses would like to quit their jobs if they could, largely as a result of time pressures caused by excessive bureaucracy. As a result, over the past ten years the sector has seen a 47% drop in staffing levels.

This is of critical importance, considering that our NHS is built on patient care delivered by the best healthcare workers. In order to continue to improve the quality of patient care, we need to make sure that we’re reducing the burdens they are facing – making our caregivers’ working lives easier and allowing them to spend more time caring for patients. This will ensure that frontline staff remain motivated and enthused – and, crucially, that they remain in the job.

Stopping bureaucracy and improving service through mobile technology

Our research found that 78% of community healthcare leaders are looking to increase their use of new technologies to reduce bureaucracy and enable more flexible, time-efficient working practices.

A key to success will be implementing technologies that embody the principles of ‘mobility’ and ‘synchronicity’.  They allow staff to spend as much time as possible in the community with access to real-time, accurate information from back-office systems. More time can then be spent in the community helping patients and less time travelling back to the office to complete paperwork. Such is the importance of the role of technology to the sector that over the next two years community healthcare leaders expect to see double-digit growth in the adoption of mobile devices, unified communications, cloud solutions and M2M.

Take the NHS Western Isles as an example. It may come as a surprise that more than 40% of their frontline staff time was being spent on inputting and processing the data from patient visits. Now, nurses carry revolutionary digital pens wherever they go. As they write on forms, the pen converts and securely transmits the data to the organisation’s server. As a result, nurses have more quality time to spend with their patients and the solution is expected to enable over 5,000 additional visits every year.

Blackpool NHS community nursing has also turned to technology to gain greater efficiencies. They’ve rolled out tablets synchronised to the organisation’s existing IT infrastructure, through which clinicians are able to access patient information, record notes and adjust their schedules. Using the tablets has allowed nurses to fully focus their attention on their patients, safe in the knowledge that they have the technology at their fingertips to find, record and action all important information. Plus, as they no longer have to return to the office so regularly to do paperwork, each clinician is able to make up to two extra appointments every day, which is having a huge impact on the quality of care provided in the community.

Things to consider when implementing technology

It is vital that organisations have solid plans in place through which to smoothly manage the implementation and operation of these new technologies.

Our research found that, aside from budget, key barriers for healthcare leaders are the need to train employees (67%), IT and data security concerns (64%), together with ongoing maintenance requirements (64%). More critically, given the sensitivity of patient data, nearly three quarters of organisations feel they are lacking the IT capabilities required to implement new technologies. Given this skills gap, it’s no surprise to find that over two-thirds (70%) of organisations intend to outsource technology requirements.

Done correctly, technological investment holds the potential to revolutionise community healthcare – raising the quality of services, boost the morale of staff and drive essential cost savings. With challenges waiting around every corner, this is not a road that should be trodden lightly, but it is one that offers huge rewards and will thoroughly merit the efforts of those who walk along it. It bodes for a healthy future for all.