Healthcare has gone through some major changes with its technological advances, including its relationship with WiFi. So it comes as no surprise that the market for Wi-Fi healthcare services is set to grow to $1.34 billion (£865 million) by 2016.
This growth has led to the idea of the Connected Hospital, a vision of a fully integrated hospital where wireless technology allows healthcare professionals and patients to roam throughout the hospital while providing accurate, real-time monitoring.
The benefits of reliable WiFi within the healthcare industry are no longer just useful to the patient. WiFi is being used for oxygen monitoring devices, smart beds, access to electronic medical records (EMRs) and real-time access to X-rays and MRI scans.
This type of connectivity, which provides the user with anytime, anywhere access, allows clinicians to provide accurate and timely patient monitoring and focus on the best quality of patient care, rather than administrative tasks.
Therefore the increasing numbers of wireless medical devices in hospitals has led to the ultimate goal: improved patient care.
In my experience, this improved patient care isn't just from a medical perspective. Having reliable access to the Internet has huge potential to improve the healthcare experience for patients themselves, from appointment reminders to increasing connection to the outside world during hospital stays.
WiFi in healthcare enhances communication with friends and family, provides entertainment, permits access to the workplace and generally reduces a feeling of isolation.
This improved communication is also beginning to improve non-attendance levels, a factor that costs healthcare providers a lot of money each year. Despite this fact however, the figures from the NHS are still staggering. Over twelve million GP appointments are missed (opens in new tab) each year in the UK, costing in excess of £162 million annually.
Another seven million outpatient hospital appointments are missed per year, costing an average of £108 per appointment in 2012/13.
Unfortunately in this busy world we live in it is easy to forget appointments that we have booked. Dates for hospital or dentist check ups, blood pressure checks and the like, often slip our attention.
The expense of using WiFi to send out appointment reminders is relatively small compared to the cost of missed appointments. There are initial set-up issues for the relevant departments as they link the right patient to the right data but this is minor when you consider the manpower involved with telephoning people or sending out paper reminders.
Once a patient is technologically up and running a healthcare centre can choose when to send reminders, whilst patients could confirm attendance, make an adjustment to times or inquire about the appointment. All this doesn’t need to compromise security (opens in new tab) as there can be a public and private network in the same institution.
In bigger healthcare institutions, so called ‘wayfinding tools’ can cleverly point patients to the right department. This is just one way to help WiFi users with stress reduction on hospital visits.
It says ‘Out-patients’ on your letter but which one? Your entrance to the hospital is sometimes at ground level, sometimes it is the first floor; it often takes a walk over to an information stand to get your bearings. Using the ‘wayfinding tools’ could navigate a patient straight to where they need to be.
Furthermore, patients could be directed to the waiting area, saving more time and reducing stress. Doctors too could benefit. A recent survey in BMJ Open found that 100 per cent of the doctors they interviewed said they had got lost on their way to a crash call. Could this help them out?
Some GP surgeries don’t allow toys but family friendly WiFi could change all this. It’s a moment every parent dreads. Having a child who is poorly can be emotional; both the parent and child have probably not had much sleep. Waiting for the doctor can test even the most hardened character when they are with a cranky, sick and tired child.
On the other hand, they may have started to run around the surgery as the Calpol kicks in. In either case, toys would probably help. However, there are now no toys allowed in some units because of the risk of infection from a sick child passing it onto other children.
Thankfully, our smartphones and mobile devices have all the games and apps a child might need to keep them fully entertained. WiFi could be seen as an essential in this scenario. It’s also always worth noting that family-friendly WiFi has filters to block inappropriate content (opens in new tab), ensuring peace of mind for the parent.
Feedback on services:
In a sector where everything is driven by targets and patient satisfaction, it’s important to get meaningful feedback. A centre might get feedback information on how easy it was to book an appointment, what patients think of the care they received and whether they needed a repeat appointment.
Useful feedback ensures all the medical centre staff are aware of patient views and can continue to deliver the best service possible.
Healthcare centres can ask for feedback on services via e-shots whilst the patient is waiting for their appointment, or when they get home.
Personalised ‘offers’ and patient information:
Providing WiFi gives you the opportunity to provide a more personalised experience for patients. Age related information could be sent out for the over 60s, vaccine information sent to parents of young children and gender specific information on relevant health-care check-ups.
Dentists could send promotional offers for teeth whitening or email information about their dental plan.
Smart resource allocation
As well as trying to make the patient experience as smooth as possible for patients, healthcare providers remain conscious of the expenses involved in allocating resources. It is of course important to bear costs in mind and ensure that services are implemented and used in an effective manner.
WiFi technology could be used further to track wheelchairs, allowing staff to locate them easily and reducing instances of equipment going missing. Presence analytics also identify which rooms are being used the most, so the hospital can adjust resources accordingly.
With the average length of stay in hospital at around five days in both the UK (opens in new tab) and America (opens in new tab), there can be feelings of isolation from loved ones who invariably can’t be there 24 hours a day.
Children in particular might feel lonely and feel as though they are missing out on the fun that their friends are having. WiFi access would absolutely help them to stay connected with their friends and see what has been going on in their absence. Friends and relatives can easily stay in touch via skype and social media.
As Harley Street psychotherapist, Jennifer Dew (opens in new tab) said: ‘It’s important for patients to easily communicate with their loved ones from their hospital bed – and using their own device is by far the easiest option for them. If access to WiFi helps to make some patients get better sooner, what’s not to like?’
At the same time, visitors to an inpatient (opens in new tab) may also wish to continue with their lives as normally as possible as well as being able to visit a family or friend. A child visiting a parent may have to do their homework at the side of the bed, enabling them to continue to strive to their full potential whilst also visiting, reducing the guilt or burden on them instead of them staying at home.
People who rely on the Internet connection to earn a living (such as those who are self- employed) may not want to stop working if they are in hospital with a broken leg, many indeed cannot stop working because their family still rely on the income.
The possibilities are endless and the future for healthcare providers is a wealth of opportunity for enhanced communication from the provision of WiFi. Patient notes being accessed online on mobile devices leading to increased speed in treatment.
An A&E patient’s blood group could be checked in an instant. No lengthy wait for an X-ray result to make its way to the correct department. The transfer of notes where there is little chance of it getting lost en-route, decreasing error in allocation of treatment. As mentioned previously these things are already happening. The future is equipment directly updating patients details with the results of the tests automatically.
The future of WiFi should be ubiquitous in hospitals and healthcare centres and freely available for everyone to enjoy and reap the benefits of the technology.
Progressive healthcare providers have already begun this process with many more to follow suit. Can hospitals really afford to be without it? Can patients survive without it?
Gavin Wheeldon is CEO of Purple WiFi (opens in new tab).