Treating the NHS with some Wi-Fi medicine

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In 2015, as part of a wider push to make the NHS ‘digital and paperless’ by 2020, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced all NHS buildings were required to offer free Wi-Fi to staff, patients and visitors by the end 2018.

The motivation to do so was clear. It is reported that 70 per cent of a junior doctor’s time is spent doing paper-based administration, and not treating patients.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the former Medical Director of the NHS, once stated: - “I recently asked a bunch of junior doctors what single change in hospitals would make their jobs easier. I didn’t expect the answer: Wi-Fi. But it makes sense.”

According to the NHS Five Year Forward View our health service faces a £30 billion funding gap. On top of this, there’s said to be a mass exodus of doctors. With financial pressures biting across the healthcare system, unshackling clinical staff from desk-bound paperwork would help control spiralling costs, and improve patient outcomes because of more time spent with clinicians.

Phenomenal progress

Despite recent austerity cuts and measures, the NHS remains a monolith. 

It employs 1.2 million people – roughly the same number employed by McDonalds, globally. One million patients are treated by it, every 30 hours.

The 2017 Naylor Review estimated there to be 26 million square meters of gross internal area across 1,200 sites, with a further 7,000 GP surgeries flying the NHS banner at the front door.

The numbers are staggering and covering this entire estate with reliable Wi-Fi, to such vast numbers of staff, patients and visitors, is arguably the largest network transformation ever undertaken in the UK.

Installing a Wi-Fi network remains a largely manual task. Hundreds of access points must be attached to ceilings and miles of cabling run. Doing this in an organisation that never sleeps or takes holiday, and where connectivity can be a matter of life and death, is no mean feat.

The NHS has largely risen to this challenge, to the enormous credit of its in-house IT staff. If you were to walk into a randomly chosen hospital across the country, it’s almost certain you’d be able to connect to a freely available wireless network.

Leveraging Wi-Fi to enhance experience

But there is more to a WI-FI network than basic connectivity.

A few trailblazing hospitals are taking a leaf from other industries - delving into a world of application development, the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation to explore how Wi-Fi can be leveraged to achieve much more.

To illustrate how Wi-Fi might be used, let’s imagine the patient journey of a woman called Sandra arriving at a hospital.

Easy onboarding

When Sandra arrives at the hospital, she can connect to the Wi-Fi network easily on both her mobile and her tablet.

She downloads the hospital’s application on her phone, which provides her with interactive wayfinding, meaning she can follow the map to get to the right department on time.

Once she arrives, online registration is automated. Again, no hassle, no queueing – all the more important when you’re unwell.

Away from hospitals, we spend a lot of time working with customer attraction destinations – such as museums – who are using their network to address similar challenges of finding ways around large sites and engaging with visitors. 

Many now display additional content about specific exhibits or activities in real time, at the moment your visitors are engaged with them. Some even send offers for the museum café at lunchtime, driving additional revenue.

Electronic patient records

No longer will Sandra have to carry around paper notes from department to department, or her doctors have to rifle through handwritten notes at the foot of the bed.

With electronic patient records, healthcare is more efficient and safer for patients. When Sandra is settled on the ward, the doctor can view her X-ray images at her bedside on their tablet. This reduces the administrative burden and, most importantly, delivers better health outcomes with all pertinent information easily accessible when making clinical decisions.

Furthermore, health professionals are able to view and update patient records on mobile devices while on ward rounds, for example. This will reduce paperwork and minimise the likelihood of important information going astray or being recorded inaccurately.

A connected facility

Sandra can be comfortable in the knowledge that everything is running smoothly in a connected facility.

With telemetry, the measurements from Sandra’s monitoring equipment are collected and monitored remotely. Real-time location services and IoT devices enable tracking of equipment (a pump, for example) so nothing goes missing and all necessary equipment is to hand.

Staff are always contactable with voice over IP on their wireless handsets. Furthermore, patient movement tracking means that if Sandra decides to leave when she shouldn’t, gets in trouble, or has a fall, the system is alerted.

As more and more life-saving devices are dependent on continuous coverage, having a network you can trust is critical.

Improved patient comfort

With mobile Wi-Fi, Sandra can keep herself entertained while waiting as well as keeping friends and family updated. For long hospital stays, fast and reliable internet access is a must to enable patients to keep in touch with friends and relatives and entertain themselves with films and games.

As Sandra is happy and connected, she can relax and focus on getting better.

Moving forward

Earlier this month, speaking at UK e-Health Week, NHS England’s national director for operations claimed the NHS’s failure to “get the IT basics right” is stopping the NHS from running efficiently.

Ensuring Wi-Fi is readily available in every hospital in the country will be a powerful and effective step to improve people’s take up of digital health and technologies. It will open the doors to digital tools and technologies and it could transform health and social care services. It will also reduce administration time and allow clinicians to focus on more important work.

In the long run, this will save money and improve patient outcomes.

Martin Jones, Managing Director, LAN3
Image Credit: Chris Oakley / Flickr