Comment: Unified communications and the NHS: A renaissance

Lee Francis, healthcare strategy director at Trustmarque, argues that unified communications has transformative potential for the health service

In this article, Lee Francis, healthcare strategy director at Trustmarque, argues that unified communications has transformative potential for the health service and could dramatically improve staff efficiency, particularly for clinicians bogged down by the burden of administrative tasks. He also looks at the potential challenges in implementing the technology

The deployment of UC solutions can make a marked difference to the way an organisation communicates

It’s no secret the NHS has been tasked to do more, for less. The rising cost of caring for an aging population, combined with changing public expectations on how health services should be delivered, are combining to place the NHS under growing pressure.

In any organisation, maintaining good communications is a challenge. But for a round-the-clock organisation like the NHS - with community and mental health trusts dispersed across vast geographic patches, serving over one million patients every 36 hours, and with a workforce of over 1.3 million people – deploying a communications solution poses a larger conundrum.

Modern technology solutions can help solve this conundrum, with Unified Communications (UC) in particular having considerable potential for the NHS.

UC gives organisations the power to take charge of how, and with whom, it communicates, and supports improved collaboration and information sharing within the health economy

UC integrates real-time communication services, such as instant messaging, email, voice and mobile, into a single platform. The deployment of UC solutions can make a marked difference to the way an organisation communicates. In a world of ‘cc’ culture and email round-robins, separating the important communication from the information overload is something we’ve all experienced. UC gives organisations the power to take charge of how, and with whom, it communicates, and supports improved collaboration and information sharing within the health economy.

So, when it comes to UC, what do NHS trusts need to take into account when looking to deploy a solution?

Be stringent

UC offers a new world of opportunities and ways of working, but it also introduces additional risks. These risks are easily addressable, but only when a UC deployment is not a knee-jerk reaction and is underpinned by a well-thought-out and informed strategy.

NHS trusts need to ensure they take ownership of governing the communications strategy among the workforce – this is the only way to ensure security and realise success.

NHS staff are incredibly resourceful by nature. If the organisation does not address communications challenges by providing suitable platforms then staff will find their own way, resulting in an information governance minefield. Implementing UC creates a much-more-controlled and resilient communications environment, providing staff with an enterprise communications platform that is flexible, while also ensuring security; giving management peace of mind that personal patient data, for example, is adequately protected.

Trial and training

By connecting staff members together, challenges can be analysed and responded to in real-time, ensuring problems are resolved before they become out of control

It is vital for the NHS to measure the impact of any UC implementation. Like any workplace, there will be groups of staff who have a natural affinity for UC and will make it work well for them. However, others may need additional support or guidance as to how to make the most of UC, ensuring that the entire workforce stands to benefit. As a result, it is important to not overlook staff training when considering a UC implementation.

It can be an easy mistake to think that the result of the consumerisation of IT is that everyone ‘gets it’ – this is not the case. Effective measurement and allowing users to share feedback on how well the technology is working, will give the NHS vital insight into which groups of staff have embraced UC and reaped the most benefit. These feedback groups also provide an opportunity to cultivate digital champions – natural innovators who encourage further adoption within an organisation.

Improving patient outcomes

In addition to being both flexible and secure, UC also has the power to underpin innovation and collaboration within the NHS. By connecting staff members together, challenges can be analysed and responded to in real-time, ensuring problems are resolved before they become out of control. One of the biggest benefits of a UC platform is the potential it has to improve staff productivity. By providing video conferencing and Instant Messaging functionality, along with presence and desktop sharing, UC will not only transform inter-departmental communication within the NHS, but also the way in which separate NHS trusts and bodies communicate with each other.

Ultimately, UC lets NHS staff get on with doing what they do best – caring expertly for patients and improving the patient experience

In addition, frontline clinicians will benefit greatly. By enabling uncomplicated access and amendment of digitised patient records, and easy transfer of data between colleagues, clinicians can spend more time caring and less time bogged down with time-consuming administrative tasks – leading to improved patient outcomes.

Finally, a large proportion of NHS staff also work on the move. By providing community nurses, for example, with UC tools that afford them the ability to effectively record and share notes between consultations, means less time managing email or searching for information, and more time with patients. Ultimately, UC lets NHS staff get on with doing what they do best – caring expertly for patients and improving the patient experience.

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