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Technology innovation in healthcare

What makes the difference between a successful solution and an unused box in the corner?

In healthcare, it’s widely acknowledged that technology has the potential to deliver great benefits in terms of the quality of patient care and the efficiency of operations. But it’s also well known that this has been a difficult journey so far.

The scrapping of the NHS National Programme for IT was widely covered in the media, and the reasons behind it have been much discussed – but it’s not only nationwide top-down implementation of tech that has proved challenging.

We’ve also heard stories of boxes of tablets sitting in the corner at healthcare facilities waiting for members of staff to come and use them, and the drive towards a paperless NHS is expected to take many more years to become a reality.

So what makes the difference between success in healthcare innovation and a solution that will be at best unpopular and at worst unused? I believe there are four essential criteria.

1. Put your people first

The challenge always comes before the solution, and no piece of technology is likely to be successfully integrated into an organisation unless it truly supports the way the people in that situation work, making their lives easier.

Often implementation of a new system will require business processes to change, and this needs to be properly managed. But simply expecting people to adapt their ways of working around a new piece of equipment is unlikely to work.

2. Focus on usability

Tech-based solutions always need to be truly user-friendly. I’m sure most people have experienced trying to do something online and, if it doesn’t work first time, giving up and using the reliable old way. This doesn’t only apply to consumer tech, but equally to that which we’re expecting busy clinicians to use.

Whether it’s a tablet, a scanner, a printer or any other piece of technology, the user interface must be clean, intuitive to understand and uncomplicated to use. The fewer barriers, the more likely a solution is to be regularly used.

3. Look for efficiency gains

The twin challenges in any healthcare organisation are delivering excellent patient care while also meeting often very tight budgets. This means that clinicians’ time is stretched thin, and increasing process efficiency is an essential requirement for any new solution.

Web conferencing is a good example of a technology that shows great potential for this in the healthcare sector. Where a clinician wishes to consult with an expert that might be in another city, the ability to take 10 minutes for a video call rather than half a day to travel to meet face to face could mean significant time savings.

Lowering operational costs is also key – small reductions in costs replicated across thousands of different locations can add up to big savings, and that is why external management for things like IT support and printing services is really taking off.

4. Make sure it’s secure

Last but not least is that any technology based solution will need to have water-tight credentials when it comes to protecting the security of patient records. Without the ability to demonstrate the most robust possible standards in place any solution will struggle for buy-in from clinicians, managers and patients.

a rusty green lock surrounded by many different keys
Any technology based solution will need to have water-tight credentials when it comes to protecting the security of patient records

The only way to ensure that solutions meet these four criteria is for healthcare organisations to work closely with their technology partners to really understand the role products will play in supporting positive change.

IT managers in healthcare should expect more from the technology sector than solutions sold on their own merits – suppliers should have a solid understanding of how exactly they will fit into the complex ecosystem of working practices that already exists in any given situation.

Ultimately, the aim of every healthcare employee from ground level to senior management is to provide the best patient care that budgets will allow, and innovative technology will only ever be successfully adopted if it supports rather than stands in the way of that goal.

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