From notepad to iPad: Paving the way for a digital NHS

All industries are feeling the disruptive power of technology, and the healthcare sector is no exception. Decision makers in hospitals and medical organisations are, like many of their corporate counterparts, looking towards tech to improve efficiency by easing the burden on overworked staff, streamlining the patient experience and ultimately delivering better service.

Technology’s impact on healthcare is highlighted by Jeremy Hunt’s ambition to create a ‘digital NHS’, meaning a fully connected organisation, utilising data networks and technology in a move away from paper-based records.

However, the nature of the healthcare sector means that technology has to be carefully managed. In other industries, there is greater room for experimentation. A certain piece of software didn’t result in more sales? No problem, scrap it and move on to the next. In healthcare it is not that simple. Technology in hospitals, clinics and other organisation has serious implications and it has to be integrated and deployed carefully to produce only positive results.

This issue is heightened by the current prolific nature of ransomware. Medical data is extremely important and it is a major target for cyber criminals and organised gangs. Plus, the continuing trend of medically-focused ransomware attacks is testament to the fact that medical organisations would rather pay to regain data that has been taken from them than leave patients vulnerable without it. It is undeniable that patients could suffer and lives could be lost if data is held to ransom and withheld from doctors and surgeons in critical units.

In order for the ‘digital NHS’ to become a success, the infrastructure for technology has to be in place. This means hospitals and other organisations have to have the right storage and charging solutions to sustain a move towards digitisation, because if devices are not constantly charged, synced and up to date in regards to patient data, then they will cause far more problems than they solve.

So how do you create a solid foundation? There are a number of key factors that medical organisations can consider when selecting a solution to pave the way for a digital NHS:

Introduce safe technology

Firstly, technology has to be of the highest safety standard before it is introduced to a healthcare environment. This means both physically safe and fit-for-purpose. Many organisations look to the Declaration of Conformity (CE) as the default stamp of approval and are content if their devices and storage solutions have this. However, the CE is arguably not stringent enough for a healthcare organisation. It does not take into account the environment or the fact devices will be stored and charged together – meaning an approved device or solution could still pose a risk.

Rather than the CE, hospitals, clinics and other medical organisations should insist on a higher standard of approval, from independent test houses such as Intertek, TUV and SGS. These stamps take into account factors such as how many devices are being stored and test storage solutions accordingly under much greater scrutiny. They are a more thorough mark of safety as they are far more difficult to obtain, and healthcare organisations shouldn’t settle for less.

Prioritise security

In a healthcare setting, security must be considered of paramount importance. While cybersecurity is of course a risk, physical security can also pose a threat to data. Therefore, staff must ensure that the storage solution can be locked and secured – and only accessible by those approved to do so. Alongside this, storing connected devices away from general footfall, and password protecting all tech may seem basic, but is a good starting point and should prevent people gaining access to data they shouldn’t.

Never overlook the physical risks

This may seem like an obvious point, but the physical risks associated with technology are often overlooked – and harming patients would definitely not help the NHS in its mission towards a digital future. Hospitals contain hundreds of staff and patients, and the nature of the work is often time-sensitive and hurried. Therefore, having numerous devices storing and charging haphazardly could cause a serious risk.

In order to avoid this, devices should be housed in an easy to access and transportable storage solution that is positioned to prevent any cables from creating trip hazards. Alongside this, if staff consistently monitor both the devices and storage solutions for any fraying wires or damaged parts, then technology should live harmoniously alongside all staff and patients.

Temperature control

As mentioned above, often hundreds of devices need to be stored and charged in one location. In this environment, the high temperatures can pose a serious threat. Therefore, the chosen storage solution should have fire retardant materials housing all electrical components to mitigate the risk of overheating. Organisations should also ensure that their storage solutions have temperature monitoring capabilities and temperature limiters. This way, if devices do begin to overheat, chargers can be shut down until a safe temperature is restored.

The digital learning curve

Of course, the digital NHS will not appear overnight. Different devices will be introduced, trialled and either kept or removed. The number of these devices will also fluctuate from time to time. All of this is part of the learning curve.

With this in mind, organisations need to make sure that they have storage equipment that is fit for purpose. It will need to store numerous devices, of different makes and models. It will also need to be able to charge a variety of different devices and have the ability to scale as an organisation’s technology does. The hardest part will be the transition towards digitisation, and so medical organisations will need solutions that can support this period.

Communicate and educate

While the storage solution itself is crucial, it must be handled by staff that are educated and aware of the risks. Medical organisations should invest time in teaching all stakeholders how to use devices and solutions correctly in order to avoid costly mistakes and make the most of the technology. Education can also be supplemented with Acceptable Usage Policies in order to define expectations and ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to using technology in the organisation.

Ultimately, the digital NHS could greatly improve healthcare services in the UK, saving lives in the process. However, before it can revolutionise the space, technology needs to be properly implemented on a strong foundation. Hospitals and clinics need the capability to store, charge and manage a rapidly expanding number of devices, and be able to scale and digitise in a safe manner. Once this happens, and all stakeholders are educated and on board, then the sky’s the limit for the digital NHS.

Chris Neath, head of new product development, LapCabby