The times they are a-changin'

What could be added to this title is "and we must change with them"

Technology these days is driving forward at a tremendous pace with new innovations and ideas being created at a pace previously not seen in several sectors of the Healthcare market. This is putting a strain on some organisations, individuals and regulations in a constant race to catch up. As a result, are projects going into development without being thoroughly planned for the entire life of the intended system?

It is surprising that in our homes, we are far more technologically advanced than we are in our workplace. Previously technology in industry drove the technology we have in our homes, but the trend has in many ways been reversed. The workplace needs to catch up, and the Healthcare Industry is no exception.

There are advances in technology that previously have been only dreamt of in Science Fiction, and in our homes we use voice activation, mobile apps on our smartphones linked to wireless networks, devices to answer the door remotely and speak to whoever is there, and have our shopping automatically ordered for us. Yet in most workplaces we don’t use anything like this. There may be a number of reasons for this:

  • Companies are not being driven to take up latest technologies
  • Standards and regulations prevent a move to some technologies
  • Budgets don’t allow it
  • No-one wants the risk of trying something new

In Healthcare there is a possible other reason….the procurement models don’t allow for it. In the majority of cases, new systems are purchased during new build, refurb or extension. Many (if not most) of these projects are managed via Contractors. The Contractors sub-contract out, but have a limited budget based on the value of the Contract. They have to tender against each other which, in amongst other things means giving the best price. Using NHS as an example, the procurement process is designed to get value for money (Procure 21, 22 and now P2020) and so they are not interested in a high-tech, forward thinking solution. By this I mean a system that offers a future-proof backbone that can be expanded on as new and improved technology comes along, or as the needs of a unit or ward change. The preferred option seems to be a short term, cost effective solution that meets the needs of the given specification in the Contract. This leaves the end customer with several disadvantages but the main being a lack of flexibility in the system that leads to expensive modifications to add in new features or meet new requirements.

In many ways it can be like buying a car; the base model of Ford Mondeo may suit your needs to get you from A to B, but we all would still prefer to have the Rolls Royce and all the comes with it

In many ways it can be like buying a car; the base model of Ford Mondeo (sorry Ford!) may suit your needs to get you from A to B, but we all would still prefer to have the Rolls Royce and all the comes with it. Both have to comply with the same regulations but there is a world difference in the options and the level of comfort, functionality and service you receive. I’m not saying it doesn’t cost more, because it does.

Obviously there is more to it than this, and there are other factors including an understanding of what is available. Are the people that matter getting exposure / education on what is available? Only people within the particular organisation will know. In Healthcare, it is vital that Clinical staff not only have a say in this, but are also given the opportunity to see what is currently available and possible. A cost-benefit analysis can then be carried out and the correct decision made (there’s a scary thought!).

Advances in technology within Healthcare, while initially costing more than the basic system, will save money if implemented in the right way, and used for the right reasons. They can also save lives… yes, that’s right… and who can put a cost on that (apart from the Government.. sorry Boris!). For example, a Nurse Call system that integrates with Vital Signs monitors can reduce response times and has been proved to reduce deaths. Yet this isn’t something we aren’t being asked to do…. partly due to the above. Voice activation to raise alarms would not only make things safer for a patient that has fallen, but also can make life easier for staff assisting that patient to call for assistance… yet we are not being asked to do this… we can do these things, but no-one is asking… why, if not for the above reasons?

I mentioned Standards and regulations earlier. These were written with the best intentions and by the best people at the time, but technology has moved on. We have the ability now to do things that were just not possible at the time. These regulations still make sense for the basic systems (buttons and buzzers) but integrations, automation, voice activation, movement sensors all need to be taken into account when revisiting these. They may not need a complete overhaul, as many points are still valid today, but amendments to include technologies that can save lives and money surely must be included. Before I finish, we suppliers have a part to play in this whole picture too. We have a responsibility to push the boundaries of what is possible, but we also to get the information out there of our systems can do in this respect. Technology is driving forward… don’t be left behind.

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