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Bringing the patient experience up to speed

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

It’s no secret that technology is revolutionising the world of healthcare—today, it is being used to deliver care that is dramatically changing lives. We are seeing headlines showcase incredible use cases of technology, such as 3D printers capable of printing skin cells and synthetic ovaries, to artificial intelligence (AI) aiding more accurate diagnoses.

But while advances in technology to administer patient care are coming on leaps and bounds, the technology that patients themselves interact with when they’re in hospital isn’t advancing at the same rate—nor is it given the same urgency.

As a result, we are seeing a huge technological gap within the hospital. In the same moment that we are seeing technological advancements reminiscent of something from a sci-fi film, you can walk around a hospital and see technology that is over a decade old—or a lack of technology altogether. Not only are NHS hospitals one of the biggest users of pagers, there are an estimated 9,000 fax machines still in use. Patients also watch television on cumbersome screens which hang over their beds, and staff take meal orders with pen and paper.

But knowing what innovations are taking place to administer care, patients also expect more from their hospital experience. So, what can be done to close the technology gap, and bring the patient experience up to date?

Mind the technology gap

Digital transformation for the NHS is a key priority, but when it comes to technological transformation for the patient experience, it’s one that is by no means an easy feat. There are several reasons for this. The first is because the patient experience is so wide and encompassing; it begins the moment a patient enters hospital grounds and includes every single interaction until the moment they leave. It’s difficult to employ technology that can be installed across the entire patient ecosystem that doesn’t impact the day-to-day running of the hospital—especially technology that is cost-effective.

Secondly, while hospitals have tried to deploy technology to add comfort to the hospital experience, such as through bedside TV units, they have been badly treated by third-party service providers. They are tied into contracts that leave them stuck with out of date technology for long periods of time and also costs the patient, and the hospital, a lot of money.

So, while hospitals are adopting new technology to deliver the very best patient care, Trusts fear the costs of implementing new systems because they’ve been badly burnt in the past—especially at a time when budgets are shrinking.

Walking the well-trodden path

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, NHS Trusts should look at the technology that is already transforming patients’ lives outside the hospital walls – apps.  Today, a plethora of these apps can all be accessed via one central platform.

Just as we have apps for every element of our lives outside of the hospital, we can have apps for every aspect of the patient experience. From the moment patients step on-site, they can use apps to pay for parking, check-in or check waiting times, apps for entertainment services, ordering meals or educational information that allows patients to learn more about their illness. The list is almost endless for apps and services that can be added to enhance the patient experience, in very much the same way that mobile phone app stores have millions of apps that add value to every aspect of our lives outside hospital walls.

Not only will this meet the expectations and demands of patients, but it will also empower patients and give them back a feeling of control, meaning they are no longer fully reliant on hardworking NHS staff every time they need something. What’s more, it’s all done through a device and model they know and love.

Implementing simple technological changes in hospitals will transform the patient experience for the better and bring the overall standard of technology in hospitals in line with patient expectations. By using a bring your own device model, NHS Trusts aren’t lumbered with outdated technology that costs their patients money.

The NHS’s Test Bed scheme brings NHS organisations and industry partners together to use technologies to positively change the way healthcare is delivered to patients. For example, Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust is working on technology that will provide patients with access to their digital health records, with the aim of reducing missed appointments and duplication of clinical activity. Greater Manchester Strategic Clinical Networks is also testing a one-stop digital platform (MyDiabetesMyWay) designed to help people self-manage their condition more effectively. With advancements in patient technologies being made, we will start to see more innovation move to the hospital environment, with patients using and interacting with more modern technology.

Better technology, better experiences

There is no doubt that technology is making great strides in the world of healthcare and will continue to play an increasingly important role for years to come. But while we are starting to see steps taken to address the technology gap, more focus needs to be put on the patient experience, and the technologies that patients interact with. 

While it may seem like a low priority, new patient technology not only has the potential to create a better patient experience, it can help boost staff morale, as well as unlock cost savings for hospitals. As many longstanding, third party contracts start to come to an end, hospitals should start thinking about new technology that embodies the NHS mantra of being free at the point of access.

The patient hospital experience can be emotional, distressing and overall, unpleasant. Technology that can improve a long and sometimes lonely process, provide comfort and a connection to the outside world, all while helping staff and hospitals, should be one that is acted on sooner, rather than later.

Matt O'Donovan, CEO, WiFi SPARK

Matt O’Donovan is CEO of WiFi SPARK. As the NHS’s most respected WiFi provider, Matt champions new technology in other areas of hospitals, bringing free TV and communication services to patients.