Richard Phillips is Head of Mobility Solutions in Global Government and Health for BT Global Services

Tapping into the potential of mobile technology can release healthcare staff from offices and give them the tools to spend time with patients at home.

It's not just the NHS that can benefit from mobile working. The whole public sector can - and should - capitalise on the popularity and ubiquity of mobile technology to deliver better services, more efficiently.

Community health services are the front line of the NHS. Jeremy Hunt MP used his reappointment as Health Secretary to call for “a step change in services offered through GP surgeries, community care and social care”.

Mobile working has been around for a while in the NHS. The government’s National Mobile Health Worker project found compelling evidence in its favour. However, the rapid rise and consumer acceptance of smartphones, tablet and apps means that mobile working is now even more attractive for the NHS.

We’re helping Humber NHS Foundation Trust introduce mobile working. More than 3,000 Trust employees deliver mental health, community, learning disability and addiction services across 70 sites and in patients’ own homes. The Trust understands that capturing information at the point of care can create many benefits.

Clinical practitioners will be equipped with smartphones, tablets or ‘phablets’ (bigger than a smartphone, smaller than a tablet). A simple app will give them instant, secure access to all the information and services they need to deliver care, whether they’re in the office, on the go or at the patient’s home.

Unlike laptops, tablets and smartphones are always on - there are no connectivity issues or complex logins to wrestle with.

Security and confidentiality are built in with appropriate levels of authentication to access patient care. The app allows online and off line access to the right level of data each care professional needs for their visit.

When the need arises to share patient information, perhaps with social services, the nurse can request and record the patient’s consent there and then - a step sometimes missing in the traditional clinical process.

When clinical practitioners can see and share everything relevant - patient notes, X-rays, test results – they’re more informed and able to take better decisions.

Better decision making can help keep people well, and reduce the need for hospital admissions. So a nurse might make use her smartphone to take regular photos of a bed sore to monitor that it’s healing well, annotating the image stored securely in the app so that it’s easy for a colleague to follow up. 

One particular bugbear for people with chronic or complex health problems is that they find themselves repeating their story over and over again at successive appointments.

Using a mobile app to capture information once and then make it consistently available can vastly improve their experience of health care.

Smartphones and apps are now so common that staff training is a matter of hours, not days. What’s more important is to make sure than all employees are involved in the change and understand what it means for them. Not engaging people is almost a guarantee of failure.

With this in mind, BT spent a day with Humber NHS Foundation Trust staff, showing them how their day would look before and after the introduction of mobile working.

No longer will they start by calling into the office and collecting their appointment list and patient records, or finish late writing up their notes back at the office (or at home).

They’ll head straight off to see their first patient of the day (the app will link with satnav for directions if need be). Then they can update the patient record on the spot, using smart forms that make it easy.

Employees are generally very positive when they can see how everyone wins - they get more time to spend with patients, patients get better quality care and the Trust saves on the costs of travel, administration and paperwork.

Getting sign off for a project like this can be tough. Critics might claim that buying cool new technology in an age of austerity is frivolous. That’s why it is important to build the business case.

Because we could demonstrate Return on Investment and show how the solution would improve patient care, NHS England’s Nursing Technology Fund was willing to contribute to the Humber project. Using G-Cloud also speeded up procurement and kept costs down for the Trust.

Of course, it’s not just the NHS that can benefit from mobile working. The whole public sector can - and should - capitalise on the popularity and ubiquity of mobile technology to deliver better services, more efficiently.

Together we've got the public sector covered