Going mobile

Is mobile technology benefiting your private hospital or practice and its patients as much as it should? Scott Hague outlines some exciting possibilities that could improve quality for all

Going mobile hands 1The modern-day smartphone is as powerful as some of the computers that graced our homes in the not-too-distant past. And the common perception that ‘everyone has one’ isn’t too far from being accurate.

According to Google’s ‘Our Mobile Planet’, in 2011, 30% of the UK population owned a smartphone. By 2012, it was 51%. In 2013, that reached 62%.

Kantar data put that number at 71% in 2014 and went a step further to forecast that well over 80% of the UK population will have a smartphone by the end of this year.

We overtook the US for smartphone penetration over two years ago.

The UK population has accepted and embraced mobile technology and, more to the point, adopts a very future-thinking approach to it.

There’s no resistance when a new phone with smarter functionality comes out. You only have to look at the queues outside Apple stores up and down the country on device launch day to see that.

Far from resisting mobile device progress, the British public yearns for it. And the rate at which progress is happening in mobiles is phenomenal. In some sectors, three-quarters of all traffic to a website comes from a smartphone or tablet device. And it is growing.

Yet, in spite of this, the healthcare sector has not taken advantage of the technology in the same way as, say, the retail sector has.

NHS lagging behind

It is perhaps unsurprising that the NHS is, at present, failing to keep up with its patients. A study we conducted at Integrated Change found that the NHS experienced a 118% increase in mobile traffic to its websites over a 12-month period.

Yet fewer than half of these sites are optimised for the mobile user.

Despite these figures, we have dealt with teams within the NHS who have some creative, innovative ideas using mobile technology that would indeed offer patient benefits.

However, turning them into a reality can be, at times, hindered by the nature of the public sector.

But the private sector is also, in many ways, missing the opportunity to use mobile technology to enhance the experience for the patient and to increase operating efficiency as well.

In this and an article next month, I intend to elaborate on some of the potential opportunities for private healthcare starting here with some example uses for mobile apps and moving on in the second part to discuss mobile web opportunities.

Mobile apps and your patients

Going mobileNobody knows your patients like you do. You know their demo­graphics, healthcare challenges and motivators in depth.

But our experience suggests that some private healthcare providers have something of a blind spot when it comes to understanding their patients from a digital perspective.

This means understanding:

  • What devices they have;
  • What they use them for;
  • Where they use them and why.

Healthcare providers can make accessing information more straightforward by adopting mobile technology.

Our December 2014 study included interviews with 100 private orthopaedic patients aged between 15 and 65. Almost half of the patients we interviewed stated they would like to make, amend and cancel appointments using a mobile app.

Not only is this something that would be highly efficient for the patient, but it is one potential use that could offer clear administrative efficiencies for the hospitals as well.

I am by no means medically trained. But over the years, I have worked with a number of healthcare providers and believe mobile technologies could alleviate some of the challenges and frustrations that exist.

Examples of some other potential uses of apps

Inpatient care

By loaning your patients iPads or other tablet devices, you could feasibly:

 Enable patients to access entertainment (TV and radio apps already exist).

 Develop an app to allow your patients to:

  • Order their meals;
  • Be reminded about medication they should be taking;
  • Complete questionnaires and authorisation documents relevant to the stage they are at during care;
  • Pay for their care;
  • Access information relating to their stay in the hospital, such as upcoming milestones or visits from the consultant;
  • Get them to tell you their comfort levels – such as pain or nausea.

 Provide patients with access to Facetime, Skype and other video communication applications to assist them in keeping in touch with friends and family. You could even link up the consultant to provide the patient with remote advice or care.

And consider the possibilities for outpatient care too. You could be connected to patients once they are released from hospital and enable them to access information about their aftercare, to supply information to doctors and nurses and make follow-up appointments.

And for hospital medical staff

Develop an app that allows a ward manager to:

  • Receive notifications about test results for patients;
  • Receive feedback on patient satisfaction on the level of care – while the patient is still there and there’s something that can be done about it;
  • Complete ward rounds without paper. It is not just the patients and medical professionals who can benefit.
  • Administrative efficiencies can by achieved by streamlining estate management, managing staff training and supplying staff with rotas.

Going mobile hands 2Or you could provide a one-stop emp­loyee app that gives workers tube and train times, updates on the business, connects them to affiliated third-party companies, displays their benefits or holidays remaining and so much more. All can be achieved through mobile technology.

That is just today. With wearable technology just getting started and a big launch in the form of Apple Watch due soon, integrating mobiles could become even less invasive in the very near future.

Think about monitoring pat­ients once they have left care, helping them through rehab, setting them goals and enabling two-way communication bet­ween their physio or physician.

The possibilities are endless.

Integrating mobile in private healthcare

Of course, it is easy for me to say all this is possible. But implementation of such ideas is not an easy task. So where do you, as a private healthcare provider, even start?

My own experience of providing mobile consultancy, and then development and implementation in a private healthcare setting, has taught me that the most effective approach includes these steps:

1. Talk to your staff across all departments and find out what their frustrations and challenges are.

What is taking them longer than it should? What makes their day more difficult? How do they think their job could be made more efficient and how do they think your hospital or clinic could provide a better environment or better care for its patients? Survey staff and assess the responses in detail.

2. Talk to your patients. Find out what you can do to improve things from their perspective. Take the opportunity to get to know them digitally. Which devices do they use regularly? What do they do on those devices? What would they like to be able to do or access in relation to their care on their devices?

Why not place a tablet device with a simple survey installed, place it in waiting rooms and prompt patients for their views or suggestions? It does not have to be complex.

From this, identify a number of problems you would like to solve through mobile technology. Get to truly know what the problems are inside out.

3. Speak to IT! Find out what is feasible with your existing systems and where the challenges of adopting mobile might lie. IT should not lead the project. But their buy-in and experience will be essential, as with all other stakeholders, in ensuring any project or change can be implemented efficiently.

4. Get a complete project spec together. Consider which platforms you would want to develop any mobile apps on. Consider how patients will access the apps.

Will you loan them devices or will they access on their own? If it is the latter, you need to research your patients and find out what devices they are using. You will need to work closely with IT or your mobile project developer here, ensuring you have a tight brief and clear idea of how the project will go.

5. Keep on developing and improving. When you launch your first version of it, you have the opportunity to get feedback and improve on the feedback. And it’s key to be flexible enough to be prepared to make future alterations and changes based on new technologies and shifts in the mobile space.

6. Track usage. Use Analytics to track what patients and staff are doing on your app, how they’re interacting and so on. This data could be incredibly valuable in ensuring your use of mobile stays ahead of your patient and staff expectations

Photography by Joe D Miles - ImageCapture +447956 314 366Mobile is far from new. But the pace of change remains remarkable and the adoption figures are astounding.

By getting to understand your staff and patients’ challenges, by starting small and testing and by really getting to grips with what your organisation’s biggest problems are, mobile can become the vehicle to power the solution.

Scott Hague (right) is development director and owner of Integrated Change, a digital healthcare agency which develop mobile apps, medical websites and online marketing strategies specifically for healthcare