This article first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of OnWindows.
Lord Carter’s new review into NHS operational efficiency and productivity has identified a wide variation in hospital performance and a plethora of opportunities that the Trusts need to act upon to deliver the desired £5 billion per year efficiency savings, whilst at the same time optimising patient care and outcomes.
One major issue affecting operational efficiency is that poor communications are costing the NHS millions of pounds every year and adversely impacting patient care and clinical outcomes.
Tools like Skype for Business give hospitals the full spectrum of communication tools needed to drive efficiency and reform. It enables organisations to replace their existing telephone systems with a modern multi-channel communications platform combining voice, video, desktop sharing, conferencing, instant messaging and user presence in one interface, which is accessible from any device, anytime, anywhere.
Although there have been some early adopters and pockets of best practice, many more Trusts need to act now to replace old communications platforms and practices that no longer meet the needs of a modern organisation. A focus on a few key areas could deliver the big changes needed, quickly.
For example, a recent study found that almost 21% of nursing time is spent involved in the communications necessary for care coordination in comparison to 19% devoted to direct patient care. Skype for Business enables quick and efficient identification of available staff and enables greater time to be spent on patient care rather than waiting for someone to answer a phone or searching for a relevant colleague.
Acute NHS trusts spend £55.6 billion every year, £33.9 billion of which goes on staffing. Lord Carter estimates a 1% improvement in staff productivity will save the NHS £280 million a year, which equates to hospitals using new working methods that would save every member of staff five minutes on an eight-hour shift. Skype for Business enables staff to use ‘Presence’ to see if the colleague they need to consult with is available, send an instant message, share relevant documents or video-call to achieve rapid resolution to an issue. Saving five minutes in an eight hour shift should be easily achievable with the rollout a modern integrated communications platform.
Carter has also called for hospitals to do more to standardise procedures, be more transparent and work more closely with neighbouring NHS trusts to deliver efficiencies. In this regard, change can be delivered quickly. In the field of unified communication, there is no need to over-engineer specialised NHS solutions, or take 6-12 months of consultation and planning before you start. Our experience shows that Skype for Business will provide the tools that facilitate safe and secure collaboration through Instant Messaging, Conferencing and Voice today that will not only facilitate collaboration within an organisation but also with neighbouring NHS Trusts, Local Authorities and others. The resulting savings and efficiencies can be delivered within a few months, not the years associated with many similar projects in the past. Once Trusts start using the new communications platform doctors, nurses and administrators will find new ways of using the technology to help them and their patients far better and quicker than any technology specialist ever could.
As well as delivering greater value to hospital staff, unified communications technologies are also likely to turn the doctor-patient relationship on its head and likely to overshadow the current debate about weekend opening of GP surgeries.
Rather than setting an appointment with a doctor in a linear fashion, a collaborative approach will develop with more open flows of communication and personal health data between patient and doctor, with fewer face-to-face appointments. In this environment of digital transformation, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries are going to need to scale up the use of collaboration tools and to place them on secure platforms from which they can use and share data without compromising doctor patient confidentiality and trust.
A typical interaction with a doctor is centred on a face-to-face appointment, scheduled by a patient. However, as the public become comfortable with monitoring their health, diagnosis can become a more interactive process. Patient data can be transferred direct to the doctor and symptoms discussed using a variety of communication channels that will facilitate early intervention and can reduce the need for regular visits to the doctor’s surgery for some patients. Important in this is gaining and maintaining confidence and trust, having a platform that can keep patient data confidential will be essential in maintaining that trust. The 7-day availability of NHS services will become a lot more three-dimensional than the current discussions going on at present.
With tight budgets and steep cuts being made to the NHS, health practitioners are under increasing pressure to reduce operating costs but improve the treatment of patients. By deploying technology such as Microsoft’s Skype for Business on secure cloud platforms, both clinicians and patients will be able to efficiently collaborate and communicate across networks as well as significantly reduce both their IT and utilities operating costs.
Paul Todd is Outsourcery’s public sector lead
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