The NHS has to make the most of mobile communications technology if it is to respond to the unprecedented challenges it currently faces, writes Rosie Cooper MP.
We are, as a population, living longer. Healthcare costs are growing at a faster rate than GDP as people live longer. Modern medicine is developing new drugs, diagnostics and treatments. While extremely welcome, these also bring significant additional costs. When taken with the rise of chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, the need to become far more efficient is absolutely clear.
Part of the solution is to make the most of today's mobile communications technology – tablet computers and smartphones – recognising that they have comparable power to some the world's fastest supercomputers of just a decade or so ago. With always on connectivity through secure Wi-Fi, 3G and emerging 4G technology, old working practices can now be radically transformed.
This technology can help patients and the public to make healthier decisions and manage their conditions more effectively. Healthcare professionals can also benefit through immediate and accurate access to patient information which improves efficiency, patient safety and care quality.
The Government's recent commitment to give patients the right to book GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and talk to GP practices online represents just the tip of the iceberg. We can use technology to make active interventions and health improvements.
Leicestershire Nutrition and Dietetic Services and the University of Chester have pioneered a new approach to enhance its adult weight management services. They have used Blackberry smartphones to provide systematic follow-up support resulting in statistically significant weight loss and an improved quality of life.
We also need to give clinicians tools to keep accurate comprehensive records without distracting from caregiving. Some NHS organisations have already achieved significant success here including Portsmouth NHS Hospitals Trust. It allows mums-to-be to keep their paper records as normal but because these are made using mobile-enabled digital pen and paper, the maternity department instantly receives an easily-accessible electronic copy of every record. This happens while the midwife is still with the expectant mum in her home. As well as improving safety when mums arrive without their notes, this has halved the time spent by midwives on administration.
So what do we need to make this a reality? The government has announced plans to introduce a technology fund to improve midwifery and nursing care. It is critical that we learn from those Trusts that have already pioneered new approaches. Those lessons include deploying systems that are secure enough to command the trust of patients and clinicians; providing reliable connectivity by choosing hardware that can switch seamlessly between different mobile protocols and Wi-Fi connections; developing intuitive approaches that support patient-clinician interactions; and making the most of existing investments by choosing mobile solutions that can be rapidly deployed and integrate with existing infrastructure.
It is true that the NHS faces a range of very daunting challenges – financially, organisationally and clinically, but I believe a wholehearted embrace of mobile communications technology must form part of the solution.