From ending the need for patients to repeat their medical history over and over to enabling e-prescriptions, technology can transform healthcare. But hospitals need WiFi to make it work, writes Sean Larner
The recent news that Jeremy Hunt has unveiled a £260m fund for electronic systems to digitalise patient records and help prevent errors in drug prescriptions is an encouraging step towards achieving a paperless NHS by 2018. The fact that as many as eight per cent of today's hospital prescriptions are inaccurate is frustrating, since the intelligent use of technology can avoid such errors from occurring. More worrying is the fact that in 2012, 11 people died from erroneous NHS prescriptions, highlighting the huge pressure faced by hospitals to support those in need.
Hunt's decision to boost the use of electronic patient records is a reassuring sign of recognition that the NHS is struggling under its current administrative system. This action signals a clear commitment from the government to help hospitals embrace technology in order to cut clerical costs and to reduce the chance of potentially dangerous prescriptions due to misplaced medical notes. Ultimately, the aim is to deliver better patient care and improve their overall hospital experience.
High-speed wireless technology will be central to facilitating this plan, as it will allow hospitals to introduce bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes, giving medical staff paperless access to patient information at any location within the hospital. Mr Hunt's gesture is timely, but institutions will need powerful wireless infrastructures to really see a difference.
For example Ashford Hospital in Middlesex and St. Peter's Hospital in Surrey have both adopted wireless networks - generating new ways of approaching patient care and achieving clinical excellence, but also in helping to navigate more efficient use of hospital resources. The use of mobile technology has really transformed the nature of bedside care.
Patients can find it exhausting to have to repeat entire medical histories to several attending doctors over longer hospital-stays. At Ashford and St. Peter's Hospitals, doctors have workstations on wheels with laptops connected to the IT network via wireless. This streamlines processes by enabling nursing staff to show patients X-rays during morning rounds, issue e-prescriptions or order tests on the spot, instead of waiting until the end of the ward round. Patients get the tests faster and can then see the results immediately on the screen, while all of their updated personal data is centralised via a secure intranet and available at the touch of a screen. Staff productivity is improved, as is patient satisfaction and the reliability of results.
The BYOD trend has begun to make its presence felt in the NHS, as staff want to use their own devices when working across the hospital. This practice makes life easier for staff as they are able to instantly update patient records more accurately – turning a filing cabinet of notes into a handy mobile device. Given that most people now use portable devices in their everyday lives, this technical familiarity translates well into the work environment, and will help prevent mistakes happening in future. Wireless networking makes this trend straightforward to accommodate, without compromising IT security.
Hunt's commitment to achieving a paperless NHS by 2018, and his latest investment form an important stepping stone to helping more hospitals utilise technologies to increase efficiency and reduce administrative errors. We want to make healthcare more efficient today, but we also want to help create a sustainable working environment for healthcare institutions for the future.
Sean Larner is international VP at Xirrus