Closing the digital skills gap in the NHS and the role of Mobile Device Management

Ian Brown, alliance manager EMEIA at JAMF Software writes.

“Creating an NHS which is digitally fit for purpose in the 21st century is a key priority for this government. New investment of £1 billion in health technology announced in the autumn statement will help us to achieve this – making sure that patients and staff can access the services they need, helping to free up time and reduce costs.” – Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, December 2015

A regular columnist for the Telegraph, Max Pemberton once wrote about the problems caused by the digital revolution in the NHS, saying that use of technology was key to the continued success of healthcare in the UK but that a lack of education and digital skills was holding it back. Pemberton provide the example of a nurse, who struggled to log patients with her provided tablet, because she felt the devices “took twice as long than just writing.” The nurse also stated that the electronic system didn’t include all the areas relevant to admitting someone.

With goals to be paperless by 2020, the NHS has quite some time before it can fulfil its goal. Despite 98% of GP surgeries offering online booking systems, only 12% use them. A recent report commissioned by the NHS from industry expert Martha Lane-Fox believes this is due a lack of digital skills in the NHS. Her research indicated up to 70% of a Junior Doctor’s working life is spent on administrative duties, logging information manually and completing forms by hand; tasks that could be completed far more quickly if staff utilised the digital tools available.

Jeremy Hunt’s goal is an admirable one, but without offering staff a solid base in digital technology and applications that they feel comfortable using, it is destined to fail. The NHS needs to be leveraging easy to use applications for frontline medical staff on a sturdy mobile device platform that can meet these specifications – all while keeping patient data secure.

Martha Lane-Fox suggests the solution is through digital skills programs, cultivating knowledge through training, support and mentorship programmes rolled out locally, regionally and nationally. However, this needs to be supported by mobile applications and devices that are capable of keeping up with the fast-paced world of healthcare professionals.

Recently in Scotland twenty-five local authorities recruited a shared digital officer to increase the pace of digital transformation across their services. So, perhaps we will see digital skills being improved more rapidly as the NHS increasingly comes to rely on them. However in the meantime healthcare organisations need to look into simple methods of improving the usability of staff devices.

With the above in mind, the more pertinent question might not simply pertain to digital skills, but moreover what is the right recipe of technology solutions that puts patient experience and simplified clinician workflows first.

As with the nurse quote, shared by Max Pemberton, the wrong recipe can lead to an increased workload for nurses, which ultimately means the solution gets abandoned.  So, how can a digital NHS succeed with the many challenges surrounding applications and devices that need to be considered?  For example, when considering bedside/patient experience…Are there Devices, Applications and Management Systems that:

– are reliable and familiar

– enrich patient and clinician experience alike

– provide Data Protection Act compliance

– avoid the burden of IT-intensive deployment

– are truly simple to centrally manage

– simplify (not complicate) clinical workflows

– reduce impact on IT technicians, so they can focus on strategy and vital improvements to revolutionise a digital NHS

– play well together, as well as with existing Healthcare systems (EMR/EHR) in use

For these reasons there is certainly a case for the organisational use of the Apple platform within the NHS which provides the reliability, security, privacy, familiarity, and the essential manageability needed for its current requirements.   Combine this with the strength of third party apps being developed for that platform, that are providing  remarkable  ways of combating key healthcare issues such as diabetes, and you have a piece of scalable infrastructure that must be considered.

Within the context of closing the digital skills gap and fully realising the NHS’ digital transformation, the way in which the institution is currently using and managing mobile devices should be radically reconsidered. Delivering front-line staff with more user friendly software and hardware will provide them with more time to carry out essential tasks and provide the basis for them to develop greater competency with the technology that, if harnessed correctly, could transform the way healthcare is delivered in the UK.






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