Taking tablets: an interview with South Devon NHS Trust IT operations manager David Hayes

By Danny Palmer
29 May 2014 View Comments

Technology is constantly evolving the way people work in offices across the country. But while the private sector is often thought to be closer to the cutting edge of IT developments, the public sector also sees demands to use the latest technology.

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And while hospitals used to be places where staff and visitors were told to turn their phones off, now doctors and nurses want to be able to use their own smartphones and tablets in order to make their tasks more efficient, ultimately improving patient care.

As IT operations manager for South Devon NHS Trust, it was therefore the responsibility of David Hayes and his team to develop a manageable solution that enabled staff to securely use their own devices.

"There was a growing demand to be able to collaborate anywhere people had an internet connection," he told Computing, describing how in order to accommodate this, The Trust needed a simple to use collaboration solution that was also able to protect sensitive patient data.

"We wanted something with DropBox like functionality, but wasn't going to be US hosted."

Hayes settled on a private cloud file sharing solution from Accellion, enabling secure enterprise collaboration and file sharing across various types of devices. It was adopted after impressing during its trial period.

"During the course of the trial we asked about different capabilities and every time we wanted to do something, the product did it," Hayes said.

South Devon uses the tool in a variety of areas, ranging from the transfer of documents at board level to securely sending it to organisations such as residential homes and care providers. Cloud storage also means that bringing documents to meetings as become a much easier task.

"Having information available in the cloud rather than on a heavy laptop with a charger is much more preferable. It's been used in a large number of areas where it's important to have access to documents," Hayes explained, adding that the software vastly improves data security within the NHS, maximising protection against lost documents.

"The days of laptops being found in the back of London cabs hopefully are behind us. The shockwaves those incidents have caused have left their mark, so certainly security of data is the highest priority and Accellion allows us that extra flexibility."

The security offered by the solution has enabled The Trust to implement a mobile devices policy for staff, one which sees iPads, iPad Minis and iPods used within the hospital. Hayes explained that the Apple devices were selected due to "the inherent walled garden security built into iOS".

However, the idea of harnessing tablet technology isn't a new one for South Devon NHS Trust, which initially started examining its potential shortly after Apple released its first iPad, a device Hayes told Computing "looked like a game changer."

Therefore, a handful of clinicians were given iPads for a trial which was broadly successful, Hayes explained, but it was felt the tablet was a too heavy for carrying around and entering data. However, shortly after the trial was over, Apple released the next incarnation of their tablet.

"The iPad 2 was released, so we trialled that," said Hayes, who described how the lighter device was better received by staff. "The clinicians came back and said as it was lighter, they could see themselves using it. So that was the point we thought we had a platform."

Now The Trust has around 350 Apple devices on its network, a number Hayes described as "still relatively small, probably less widespread than we'd like," but which has nonetheless already seen benefits, with iPods and iPads used to monitor patients.

"We've got a clinical application called VitalPAC used for recording patients' vital signs and then in the background it can analyse the data so you can monitor and predict issues. That's largely driven by iPod touches but there's an additional functionality that can be used on the iPad," Hayes said, before explaining how a key factor in the procurement of a new clinical portal will that it'll need to be mobile compatible to fit in the rest of The Trust's mobile strategy.

"We're in the process of procuring a clinical portal which will eventually be the interface into all the clinical systems and key element of that is it needs to be iPad tablet compatible," he explained, adding "If successful, it's a product that will be used across the community which is a big driver."

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