COMMENT: How WiFi in hospitals can help improve elderly people’s health and protect the NHS budget

Gavin Wheeldon, chief executive of Purple, reveals how The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn has seen impressive results from implementing WiFi

Technology is often seen as the premise of the young.

Logging in, surfing the net, and social engagement are 21st-century phrases which many assume are passing by the baby boomers as they enjoy their retirement oblivious to technological advancements.

This is clearly not the case.

National statistics show a growing trend of WiFi use among the older age groups.

The Office for National Statistics Internet Users: 2016 document showed that recent internet use is on the increase for those aged 65 and over.

The survey revealed that recent internet use in the 65-74 age group had increased by 68.7% since 2011.

National statistics show a growing trend of WiFi use among the older age groups

It also showed that, while the over 75’s aren’t long-term internet users, the proportion of those adults who had never used the internet decreased from 76.1% in 2011 to 56.5% in 2016.

It’s a surprising statistic, but one backed up by the experience of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.

In order to improve patient experience across the trust, the hospital installed Purple’s new guest WiFi system in August 2016.

The solution was widely publicised around the hospital and on its website to ensure patients and visitors were fully aware of the new service.

It was a resounding success, with 23,000 people logging on since installation.

Most surprising, however, were the statistics gleaned from patient use.

The hospital discovered that 42% of those accessing the WiFi were 45 years and over, and 20% of those within that category were aged over 65.

Despite having an older demographic, the hospital itself was intrigued to discover that a large number of patients in the older age range were accessing the WiFi.

Silver surfers had not been expected in such large numbers.

The relevance of these statistics to the NHS cannot be underestimated in terms of helping both older patients and older visitors have a more-positive experience.

Giving patients something to do when they are in hospital can only contribute to their wellbeing, possibly speeding up their recovery

People are in hospital for a multitude of reasons. Some are visiting family or friends, while others will be attending outpatient appointments.

Others have the unfortunate experience of being hospitalised for a long period of time.

NHS Digital revealed that patients in the 65-69 age bracket had the most hospital appointments. Some seven million were attended in the years 2013-14, so making their lives easier could certainly help a hospital run more efficiently.

Using free WiFi can also help alleviate the boredom of a long stay in hospital.

Keeping up with friends on Facebook or accessing books and films online could help lift the spirits of someone who spends much of the day, laying in bed and looking out of the window.

In 2016 patients aged 65-69 made up the single-largest group of patients admitted to hospital in 2015-2016.

In fact, some 1.3 million baby boomers ended up in a hospital bed, spending an average of 7.3 days incarcerated. This is a long time to be entertained.

There’s no doubt that the NHS is in crisis as huge financial strain, coupled with an increasing population with multiple health issues, put it under enormous pressure

Loneliness itself is a factor among the elderly, with 17% of older people in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week.

The Campaign To End Loneliness also found that it impacted on health, especially in the areas of obesity and physical inactivity.

It would be a big leap to say that free WiFi can end loneliness, but in hospital those feelings of social isolation could certainly be eased with a quick Whats App conversation with a grandchild or friend from overseas.

Mental health issues are increasingly putting a huge strain on the NHS, so anything that could help keep older patients engaged and involved, should only be seen as a positive move.

There’s no doubt that the NHS is in crisis as huge financial strain, coupled with an increasing population with multiple health issues, put it under enormous pressure.

The relevance of these statistics to the NHS cannot be underestimated in terms of helping both older patients and older visitors have a more-positive experience

“WiFi may not be able to solve many of the issues, but it could certainly play its part.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has acknowledged this and pledged that all NHS buildings will offer free WiFi as part of the NHS’s bid to become digital and paperless.

Giving patients something to do when they are in hospital can only contribute to their wellbeing, possibly speeding up their recovery. And, when you’re over 65, that has to be a good thing.

Companies