Why BlackBerry’s relationship with University Hospital Birmingham is of ‘paramount’ importance’

Ian Bolland spoke to Paul Jennings, head of technical operations and infrastructure at University Hospital Birmingham and Sara Jost, former nurse and global healthcare industry lead at BlackBerry about the partnership between the two, its effect on patient care and how it can guard against cyber-security breaches.

The NHS is always looking for ways to use new technology to improve efficiencies, patient care and reliably protect the details of patients.

The University of Birmingham Hospital Trust and BlackBerry have had a long-standing partnership – covering four hospitals with around 25,000 members of staff.

Communication is a key part of a functioning organisation, none more so than in a Hospital Trust that covers the second city of the United Kingdom, meaning the platform and technology used takes on a great deal of significance.

“Communication is very important, and we do rely on emails for alerts, the ability to have apps sending alerts, information,” Paul Jennings, head of technical operations and infrastructure at University Hospital Birmingham explained.

“The BlackBerry solution has actually given us quite a range of tools. Firstly, we can control those devices so in the event that something goes wrong we can actually get hold of it, we can actually delete it, whatever we need to do to get it deleted. Also we can start to get reliable messaging going out from our systems and through email we can have that communication channel and it creates that sort of environment that we know we’ve got that sort of resilience there.”

Jennings is alluding to any kind of attack or data breach. Though the Trust wasn’t directly affected by the high profile WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017, such scenarios can prove to be a wake-up call for hospitals. Jennings admits the Trust could have done ‘a bit of everything’ better and has led to the Trust developing its own software to strengthen its cyber-resilience.

While there’s a lot of discussion about how BlackBerry can help prevent data breaches and produce a more efficient operation, there is also the aspect of how it affects the front line, so how does BlackBerry’s input into the health service help the Trust?

Sara Jost, a former nurse, and now global healthcare industry lead at BlackBerry explained: “I think there’s many ways that these secure communications can augment and help our nurses and other clinicians within the hospital environment. Clinicians are always, inherently, trying to help their patients and they will do so regardless of whether that secure technology is given to them or not – hence we have the doctors and nurses communicating over WhatsApp, over text message. I actually even have people who have shared diagnostic images over Snapchat. They will find a way to help the patient but will do it in whatever means necessary.

“A big push of mine always in this environment and ensuring at BlackBerry that our product is inherently easy to use, so if they’re not easy to use they won’t be used. Having things like messenger, BBM enterprise – making sure it is just as easy to use as the consumer applications is very important.

“I’ve got an example from when I was nursing for me to call the doctor. I was a delivery nurse, so for me to call a doctor for delivery I’d be in the room with a patient, I’d push the nurse call button the ward clerk would come on over the PA and I’d say “please page the doctor”. The ward clerk would then page the physician, the physician would then call back to the ward clerk’s staff and she would either patch that physician back into my room on the landline for me to speak to the physician or the ward clerk would tell the physician to come. In this case, instead of that multi-person, not private exchange of information, this is allowing the nurse at the bedside to quickly, easily to call the physician with one application. It is secure, is private and you immediately know the answer.”

One technology that has been commonly used in hospitals over numerous years is the bleep pager – providing an immediate call to a healthcare professional when they are required elsewhere in the hospital building. So, will new communication technologies ever replace the bleep system that has been relied on?

Jennings said: “There’s always going to be that need for that instant response and that pager technology, but this can potentially replace it and also add to it, improve it. There is always going to be a need for that crash team, code team to come out when something goes wrong.

“I think there are different levels we’re looking at. We have the ‘bleeps’ which are effectively just general communication between clinical teams, and that could be a simple case of ‘who’s the on-call registrar?’ or it could be a case of ‘could I have a second opinion on this patient?’ – general communication between teams, between staff. Then there is the task management element as well; ‘These results are in, can someone take a look at patient X or can patient X have this work done?’ and then you move further up to the third stage; emergency, the crash team, something’s happened that needs a response straight away, that crisis management.

“Having a specialist communication service can also be beneficial to clinicians not just in terms of their ability to see patients in hospital, but also allowing them to manage their work/life balance, rather than using more mainstream communication channels.

“The other advantage is that having a dedicated system as opposed to WhatsApp means that there is a work/life balance. They can turn it off when they go home whilst still comfortable they’re not actually losing out on information or anything coming through whereas what we’ve discovered in the past is where people use WhatsApp they feel that they never turn off on this, they’re constantly on call, online effectively, and when they’re actually trying to have their own conversations they have the mix where work/life balance gets blended.”

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