I was hugely encouraged by David Cameron’s announcement in October of a government investment of £140m to ease the burden of red tape on nurses and midwives.
A big chunk of the money announced by the Prime Minister - £100m – is earmarked for new technology like digital pens and other handheld mobile devices.
The idea is to reduce form-filling, free up time, and provide up-to-date information about patients’ treatment, either on the ward or wherever they may happen to be. Great news.
But after the immediate sense of elation, I was struck by two realities. One is that health providers will have to move fast to stake their claim to the limited budget that’s due to become available by April 2013.
The competition for funding could be intense, and they’ll need expert and experienced help to make their case and demonstrate return on investment.
The other thought is that there’s no “one size fits all,” ready-made answer. ‘Form-filling’ covers hundreds if not thousands of different processes, types of work flow and applications.
Somewhere, there’s an optimal technology solution for each of them. But how do you find it in the short time available before the deadline to apply for funding? And is it really necessary anyway?
The tough answer to this last question is a resounding “yes”. Progressive trusts, hospitals and other healthcare providers know that they simply can’t afford to carry on with outdated ways of working that waste time and soak up administration cost.
With the scope of payment by results steadily expanding, and an increasing number of trusts getting into financial difficulty, others could soon find themselves on the danger list if they don’t take a long hard look at the way they capture and process information.
Understanding this work flow in detail is the real key – and the first step towards improving it. But then the choice of appropriate technology starts to become interesting. Beware of any provider who limits their offer to any single type of device – whether it’s a digital pen, a PDA, a tablet or a smartphone.
This might be a surprising thing to hear from a company that’s been the market leader in digital pens for the past ten years. But as the choice of digital devices expands in the consumer world, we’re responding to the demand for similar choice in the public and private sectors.
Digital pens still score highly in creating an instant hard copy and avoiding issues with unreadable signatures, battery life and network coverage.
But some users might prefer tablets or smartphones to suit the environment and application – especially if changes need to be made on the fly. Some might even opt for a combination of different devices.
Whatever the device that’s used for capturing the data, one key essential is that it can then be transmitted quickly and securely across the N3 national broadband network that links hospitals, medical centres and GPs in England and Scotland.
It pays to look for IGSOC accreditation, a dedicated N3 connection and data encryption to be sure that it never leaves the NHS system and is protected by the highest level of security.
So what’s the prize for getting all this right? Well, we could do worse than look to Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the overall winner of the QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) Challenge Award 2012.
Faced with the need to improve the quality, timeliness and efficiency of community mental health team data, they rolled out a patient visit reporting system using digital pens to 800 clinicians.
It achieved a reduction of 15 minutes of administration per patient, protecting important face to face time and improving productivity.
It provided the basis for accurate, contemporaneous data to determine the correct ‘clustering’ of patients and help meet the forthcoming challenges of Payment by Results. It delivered a return on investment after just one year. And – most significantly – it achieved a cash release of over £860,000.
As health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently said: “Most nurses and midwives chose their profession because they wanted to spend time caring for patients, not filling out paperwork. New technology can make that happen.”
About the author: Destiny is Edward Belgeonne’s fourth business in an eventful entrepreneurial career in mobile and digital communications spanning twenty years.
It’s breakthrough in the NHS came in 2010, with the decision by Wolverhampton Primary Care Trust to equip more than 600 healthcare clinicians with digital pen technology to free up time to spend with patients, improve data quality, and cut costs in line with the QIPP agenda.
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