In 2015, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said £1 Billion had been allocated to ‘digitising’ the National Health Service, and that all NHS buildings will offer free Wi-Fi to their patients in a ‘digital and paperless NHS’.
Despite this, hospital WiFi is patchy, with some hospitals and health care centres offering internet access while others don’t.
Access to WiFi is seen as essential for travellers booking a hotel, for students in keeping up with coursework and for people working away from the office – the same people who use services in the NHS – and rely on WiFi to go about their day-to-day lives. We need internet to keep in touch, stay on track with work, pay bills, do the food shop. WiFi is no longer a nicety, it’s almost a necessity.
Why is Hospital WiFi so important?
The current average length stay in a hospital is around one week. With no hospital WiFi patients are cut off, isolated, possibly anxious and likely bored at a time when they are feeling vulnerable.
Access to hospital WiFi is crucial for patients to stay in touch with their loved ones while in hospital and pass time while they recover. It allows families to watch films together, comfort children who may be very sick and can reduce stress and anxiety, which supports patient recovery.
Maybe as budgets continue to squeeze and we are repeatedly told how scant resources are, providing patients access to WiFi isn’t seen as a priority over more staff or equipment? But the numbers don’t lie – 6.9 million outpatient appointments are missed every year, each one costing the NHS over £100 for each occurrence. Many GP surgeries and dentists already have text reminders set up for outpatient appointments, but for the most part, patients will receive a letter telling them where and when their appointment is.
However, with an emphasis on building large ‘super hospitals’, patients go for an appointment and often enter an airport-like atrium, bustling with people with often no idea where to go. With endless identical corridors, they get lost, are late for/miss appointments, leading to clinics running late, delays in treatment, causing them as well as staff to feel stressed and adding to problems with waiting lists and meeting targets.
How Hospital WiFi Can Help
What about being able to go further and automatically tell the patient how to get to the their appointment with directions to the waiting area sent automatically to their phone?
Even better, what about doctors using a WiFi network to do Skype consultations for patients who don’t need a physical examination? Save time, costs and hassle for patients while enhancing efficiency, reducing cost and easing pressure for the NHS. A pilot scheme in London hailed this a great success in terms of cutting costs while maintaining patient satisfaction.
The NHS is increasingly pushing the idea that ‘prevention is better than cure’, endeavouring to cut costs of treatment. WiFi can support this by sending health promotion messages to visitors on-site, such as age-related messages about vaccinations or gender specific health care reminders. It’s easy for people to ignore letters through the post – why not target them with a pop-up message on their phone while they are in a health centre, prompting them to make that appointment?
WiFi to help NHS meet targets and initiatives
Instead of waiting for the results of scans and X-rays to be completed and sent back up to the relevant ward or department, hospitals using a WiFi network can benefit from having access to results instantly as they become available.
Remotely monitor equipment, such as oxygen tanks, and be notified they need to be changed, and access patient records online removing the risk of losing sensitive paper notes. Even digitise the process of ordering meals for patients, reducing the hassle of distributing and collecting paper forms.
With patient satisfaction and experience increasingly paramount, WiFi networks should allow the NHS the opportunity to gather feedback cheaply and quickly via email or text. This added convenience for patients is also likely to increase the response rate, giving health centres a more accurate representation of patient satisfaction while allowing them to develop and make services better.
Embracing WiFi will aid communication and make collecting results more timely, accurate, and efficient. When staff spend less time on admin and operational tasks, more time can be spend on patients, improving the standard of care and enhancing their experience.
As part of the increased push for efficiency, intelligent WiFi Analytics can offer insights into who is on-site, dwell times and the busiest times at the fingertips of entire hospitals, individual departments, GP surgeries and dentists. This can help with the allocation of resources, such as staff and equipment, contributing to increased efficiency and smart spending.
NHS WiFi: secure as it needs to be?
A recent cyber attack on the NHS affected 40 hospital trusts, and the government is now under intense scrutiny with people asking why the NHS is so vulnerable to hackers.
Currently, medical staff, students and researchers have access to Eduroam, where they automatically connect to the WiFi at all participating institutions, which is a good resource. However patients are not able to connect, unless they happened to be a student and have registered at their home institution. More concerningly, a recent study suggested that 50% of devices connected to Eduroam network are vulnerable to hackers.
It is essential that the NHS uses a secure network to keep huge amounts of sensitive data safe. Providing a legally compliant WiFi network increases the robustness of security measures available. For instance, network segmentation lets health workers access a separate network from patients, keeping the sharing of confidential information extra-secure.
The NHS will also benefit from being able to pre-determine what devices are allowed to connect to the network, and ‘blacklisting’ those which are denied access, keeping networks safe from ‘rogue-users’.
An important safety feature, particularly with children being able to access the network, is content filtering which keeps nasty sites at bay, reducing the risk to the network and preventing illegal activity, such as torrenting.
The NHS is a unique institution serving over 1 million patients every 36 hours. It is the world’s largest publicly funded health service and the fifth biggest employer in the UK. We Brits view it as a “symbol of what is great about Britain.” With its size can bring challenges in bringing about change, however setting up and integrating a WiFi network is quick and easy.
WiFi should be ubiquitous in hospital and healthcare centres to help build a smarter, more efficient health care system Brits continue to cherish. The NHS really can’t afford to go without.
How BLACKBX can help
Are you responsible for connecting a hospital, health care clinic, or other health service location? BLACKBX can custom fit a solution that will meet your needs for fast, secure, reliable WiFi. Drop us a line or reach out to us on social media to learn more.