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NHS facing connectivity challenges as free WiFi hotspot deadline approaches

Published 06 April 2017

As the 2020 deadline fast approaches, an NHS trust in the north midlands is working to implement a viable and robust digital WiFi solution, notes WiFi SPARK’s Tracy Scriven


For nearly 70 years, the NHS has been at the forefront of patient care, and a vanguard of cutting-edge medical advancements and ground-breaking technology. Currently, the NHS is again on the cusp of becoming a global beacon because it has the opportunity to transform its digital proposition, internet connectivity and clinical infrastructure.

In 2010, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged £1bn in the form of a technology fund to provide free WiFi hotspots to patients, visitors and staff, in all NHS buildings by 2020. This was in a bid to enhance ‘patient experience’ and improve medical care.

Research commissioned by the government has shown that improving online technology in the NHS will allow patients to keep in touch with loved ones and entertain themselves by having the freedom to surf the net exactly as they would at home, potentially making a hospital visit less stressful and perhaps lead to faster recuperation.

The report shows that improved connectivity could also streamline clinicians’ workload by reducing administrative tasks and therefore freeing up valuable time for patients. Mobile clinical systems and tablets could see the NHS being digital and paperless by 2020, while also helping to alert clinicians to potentially problematic changes in vital signs.

Currently, many NHS trusts have a patchy service, with some charging patients for connectivity while others don’t offer a WiFi service at all. Equally, the television and internet connectivity offering from some organisations is often deemed ineffective and hugely costly as global companies tie hospitals down to contract lengths for anything up to 25 years.

Indeed, the task of implementing such a major upgrade is a huge undertaking for organisations under pressure to reduce costs whilst maintaining frontline services. This is especially pertinent at a time when government policy is looking to encourage the public sector to embrace more agile, innovative SMEs to provide a more efficient, cost-effective solution with acceptable contract lengths and heightened return on investment and customer satisfaction.

Take the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM). The NHS Trust has two sites: Royal Stoke University Hospital, located in Stoke-on-Trent, and County Hospital, located in Stafford. Together, both sites care for 900,000 people a year and are considered major local employers, with more than 12,000 employees.

The trust wanted to deliver a high-quality, simple-to-use yet professional and engaging WiFi platform for its service users, patients, visitors and staff. The unique package that was deployed was a top-of-the-range, streamlined Patient Engagement Platform that delivered not only free WiFi, but access to an integrated patient solution with a full range of services, including patient check-in, wayfinding, food ordering, children’s games and a shop locator. It was also a full-security wrap-around service, which guarantees systems are secure and used with integrity.

UHNM is one of many NHS Trusts engaging smaller, more nimble companies which can put in place a thriving, cost-effective digital platform that improves customer care. The challenge for all of us is to build on this ubiquitous age of technology and embrace the emerging wave of pioneering digital solutions.

Trust case study

UHNM is already one of the most progressive NHS Trusts in the country in terms of clinical and academic achievement and dedication to the highest standards of patient care. It offers a full range of general acute hospital services, plus specialist services which include cancer diagnosis and treatment, cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery, renal and dialysis services, neonatal intensive care and paediatric intensive care.

In parallel with its world-class healthcare, the Trust wanted to enhance its digital offering to help support service users, patients, visitors and staff in line with its on-going vision for general wellbeing and welfare, as well as adhering to the 2020 deadline.

UHNM wanted to deliver a high-quality managed WiFi service which enabled easy online access and to help utilise existing way finding solutions and patient check-in software from service users own devices. In addition, the Trust wanted to provide a patient meal ordering service, entertainment package, content filtering and access to information, help and advice services.

Working in partnership with UHNM, WiFi SPARK developed a unique and bespoke solution which delivered a professional, optimized, feature-rich Patient Engagement Platform which allows the Trust to engage and interact directly with patients, visitors and staff.

The integrated service solution allows people to check-in to appointments, find their way through the hospital and access entertainment all via their mobile devices which presents the user with an informative and friendly environment upon arrival.

WiFi SPARK continues to work closely with UHNM to ensure that all communication services are optimised, proving that the intelligent and versatile Patient Engagement Platform coupled with a collaborative approach can achieve great things for all.

There are plenty of examples of NHS Trusts around the country proactively taking the lead and spearheading digital upgrades and expansion with the help from adept small businesses and SMEs.

Tracy Scriven is Director of Healthcare at WiFi SPARK.

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