NHS IT infrastructure is going through major changes, with the Department of Health looking to make the work of doctors and nurses ‘paperless' with an increased use of digital technology.
Some organisations within the NHS might be struggling with this target, but others, like Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, are fully embracing it, with mobile technology already deployed among those working in the field, as CIO Mike Jones explained.
"We implemented a solution for our workforce whereby they can capture information about patients and the work that's been done. It also gave them access to email while they're out, telephone calls, and teleconferencing with their colleagues," he told Computing about the move to electronic working, describing it as "really successful".
"It's been much quicker and easier to capture information about the patient than it was using paper. It's saved staff from having to go back to the office to put the data into an IT system – being able to do that out in the field instead has made a real difference, it's improved productivity.
"A lot of the staff couldn't do without [mobile devices] now," Jones added.
Some 800 employees have now been equipped with Google Android-based Samsung 7-inch Galaxy tablets, chosen by the Trust for their "size and functionality".
"It's something mobile staff could fit in their bag and a compromise between readability and physical size, because if it was too big they couldn't carry it around," said Jones, who added that the flexibility of Android was seen as offering the best opportunity to build and deploy applications specifically designed to aid staff in the field.
Those apps were rolled out with the help of NDL, the developer of a mobile application toolkit designed for building simple-to-use apps to improve workflow across public-sector organisations.
"The NDL application has allowed us to develop the user interface and make the system as usable as possible. It's typically for someone who isn't sitting in front of a screen all day, but nurses out treating people, so it has to be easy to use," said Jones, who added the simplicity means staff have swiftly gotten to grips with the tool.
"What the NDL application has been good at is delivering that user interface in such a way the nurses and therapists find it easy to use. And it works in that it does what it's supposed to do, which is capture data on the device and then upload it when there's a signal," he told Computing, referring to the fact that much of the Trust spans rural areas where mobile coverage can be sparse.
"There's not a signal everywhere, so we needed something that would allow us to almost work offline at certain times of day, and then be able to go back either to base or home and then once they get a signal upload the data."
Such has been the success of using mobile technology in the field, Northern Devon NHS is also looking to deploy it within wards, with the Trust having submitted a bid for 200 mobile devices for nurses. However, devices aren't being foisted upon staff without explanation, but rather they form part of a wider digital strategy, which Jones explained involves taking small steps to familiarise staff with the new ways of working.
"What we're trying to do is use this technology in advance of the Electronic Health Records (EHR) coming in to get nurses familiar with using mobile devices as part of their care," he said.
"So when EHR is with us, they're familiar with the device and how to use it in their day-to-day workflow, so it's something that comes in on top of what's already there, rather than having to get to grips with a new device and information system at the same time."
Jones added that he was keen to work with the Trust's nurses to ensure they have the right tools for the job.
"It's about giving them the technology then helping them use it through training and support and then looking at where it's not working for them, adapting what we've got to fit as best as possible," he said.
"It's an iterative approach rather than telling them ‘they must use the technology like this'."
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