Special report: Health, wealth and mobility
In this Special Report sponsored by Panasonic with Centerprise International, the temperature of the mobile healthcare market is rising
A partnership between Panasonic and Centerprise International is aiming to deliver real benefits to an expanding healthcare sector, and the key to their success is the mobile technologies which can be used to facilitate new ways of working.
While Panasonic has offered mobile healthcare-focused kit for six or seven years, the opportunity is beginning to expand further as the infrastructure and supporting IT enables truly flexible working. With this in mind, the vendor is now seeking more partners to target this sector.
Oliver Ledgard, UK and Ireland channel manager at Panasonic, says the lines it is promoting in particular to the niche include the Toughbook CF-C2, the Toughbook CF-AX3, the CF-H2 Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA), and the Toughpad FZ-G1 - and the portfolio may well expand as times go on.
Toughbooks and Toughpad kit run on Windows, which is the primary platform in healthcare, although there is a small, growing percentage of users in the sector on Android.
"Ninety-five per cent of our healthcare business is focused on these particular healthcare products," Ledgard confirms. "And we are encouraging partners to take the time to go to the Toughbook Engage Partner Programme site and sign up for a whole lot of sales tools."
He says the adoption of mobile technology in healthcare applications is reducing the number of mistakes that staff make in treatment, for instance, whether that be down to a patient mix-up or the traditionally illegible, handwritten diagnostic request form being misinterpreted at the pathology lab.
And although rugged technology can be more expensive than standard business laptops or tablets, it tends to pay for itself not only by reducing the double handling of data and increasing efficiency, but through its sheer robustness in an environment where occasional drops and liquid spills might well be expected, Ledgard points out.
Online rugged-tech reviewers note that semi-rugged CF-C2 Mk 1 models, for instance, have passed a 76cm drop test and benefit from a spill-resistant keyboard, touchpad and palm rest. A long, 11-hour battery life is also essential for health professionals who might be out for hours or all day while working.
Neil Williams, healthcare business manager at Panasonic, notes that having the right kit also helps healthcare organisations ensure the right staff are in the right place at the right time - as well as having the most up-to-date data to assist them in real time.
In addition, it can assist Trusts and other healthcare providers to attract and retain better staff - no mean feat in difficult times when competition for highly skilled talent is fierce, he says.
"It is difficult to quantify, but there are massive benefits [to mobile technology in healthcare] that are being seen, including enjoyment of life - the work-life balance," Williams explains.
"In the past, it was all very much office-based, but younger people now joining the industry expect to have a mobile device, and they expect to be able to more or less work when and where they want. Perhaps by writing up their duty notes in the evening, ready for the next day's work."
Go paperless to cut costs and boost practice
January 2013 saw health secretary Jeremy Hunt challenge the NHS to eliminate paper by 2018, boosting digital access to increase efficiency, reduce bureaucracy, and potentially save billions of pounds. He cited a PricewaterhouseCoopers study that shows SMS, e-prescriptions, and electronic patient records can free up health professionals to spend more time with patients.
He also cited a January 2013 National Mobile Health Worker Report that piloted laptops at 11 NHS sites. It found that simply deploying laptops to healthcare staff in the right way can boost productivity by up to 142 per cent, increasing the time spent with patients by up to 104 per cent after mobile devices were successfully implemented.
Time spent travelling could be slashed by up to 33 per cent, and data duplication reduced by 92 per cent.
"It is crazy that paramedics cannot access the full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency, and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records," he said in his 2013 announcement. "Only with world-class information systems will the NHS deliver world-class care."
The ￡100m Nursing Technology Fund - on offer to NHS nurses and midwives for spending on new technology with a particular focus on mobility - is a part of this government drive.
Originally announced by David Cameron in October 2012, the aim is to support nurses, midwives and health visitors by enabling them to use digital technology where possible to improve the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of their care.
A first round of funding opened in December 2013, with 140 healthcare provider organisations applying for a slice of ￡30m.
Seventy-five NHS Trusts, delivering 86 different projects, were granted a tranche: for example, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust was allotted ￡358,000 for its "agile working" project, which aims to transform its adult mental health services, and Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust received ￡1m for its community mobile-working plan.
The second round, for full year 2014-2015, closed at the end of February and has attracted 300 expressions of interest, with related regional roadshows on the opportunity scheduled from April. The stated idea, once again, is that digital pens or tablets and other mobile devices can help improve communications, allow staff to do their jobs more easily, and provide improved care and better experiences for patients.
Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England at the NHS, confirms there is a "real desire" to embrace modern technology and new ways of working to improve patient care, in part because healthcare challenges have intensified "dramatically" in recent years.
"Mobile and digital equipment can really benefit busy nurses, midwives and care staff. For example, mobile technology can mean a community nurse does not have to spend as much time travelling to and from the office, which means more time spent caring for patients," Cummings says. "Quick access to key information at the touch of a button means staff can do their jobs more effectively. Ultimately, it means better care and a better experience for patients."
Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology at NHS England, says the move is about using modern technology to support "compassionate and personalised" nursing care and echoes Cummings' sentiments.
"It is about making life easier for staff. A digital pen can improve record keeping and reduce paperwork, while a tablet or iPad can mean a community nurse can work on the go without needing to make as many trips back to the office - which means more time spent with patients," she says.
"Mobile IT devices that can be used at the bedside put valuable information at nurses' fingertips. This is ultimately about enabling nurses and midwives to improve the care they provide
Panasonic's Ledgard says the time is definitely right for channel partners to team up with other suppliers as this funding is released. Together, vendors and VARs can offer the solutions that will most benefit the NHS nursing and care community, addressing opportunities that are widespread and diverse.
"We are looking for more partners," Ledgard reiterates.
He points to a recent project with the North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT) which showed how CF-C2 Toughbooks can streamline emergency services for patients as well as assisting the staff who care for them. Following an initial pilot of 135 mobile devices, the Trust has embraced mobile working, rolling out the rugged laptops as well as hybrid units to 1,000 clinicians in community and mental health services.
Health workers can now check their diaries, make appointments, access and record patient information, and digitally record signatures - say, recording patient consent to a procedure - on the go.
As Julie Price, associate director of performance and contracts at NELFT, says: "The devices allow our staff to be more productive, spending more time with patients rather than spending lots of time travelling backwards and forwards to the office.
"This technology can also improve the work-life balance for our staff as it enables more flexible working hours. We are also exploring whether more flexible working hours could allow us to extend the hours we operate."
The rollout included technical training for users including follow-up workshops. Price adds that the managing role of finance, operations and HR departments should be considered from the start.
Mobility at the heart of the matter
James Whitfield, cardiology operational lead for heart failure at South West Essex Community Services, says mobility is changing the way cardiology nurses work in ways that
"It assists nurses in creating an adaptive working environment, enabling them to deliver better patient care," Whitfield says. "The team is able to access patient records when it is most relevant and appropriate."
Emma Loveless (pictured, right), distribution operations supervisor at Centerprise International, says Centerprise's relationship with Panasonic has been long-standing, growing to several million pounds a year. "And Panasonic came to us last month with an opportunity for us to get into the healthcare market," she explains.
Loveless notes that the drive to digitise is even more critical when it comes to field staff such as nurses and midwives. The opportunity for partners goes beyond providing the kit, supporting vendors by delivering a wide range of services including infrastructure support, she adds.
Ian Harbar, senior sales executive working on the
Panasonic distribution sales account at Centerprise International, says it is offering the OEM a degree of flexibility that it could not achieve if it were to go to market on its own - functions such as next-day service, for instance, that help it compete with larger manufacturers, and credit facilities.
And then there's the ability for Centerprise to add technical support in a sales cycle that can take several months from initial telephone call to closure.
"We are a very technical company, and we can address customer needs there. We can change the operating system and support the customer through from there. And we do keep the relationship with the customer," Harbar confirmed. "The healthcare sector is new for us, and we're excited about it."
Loveless notes that Centerprise is applying a small, dedicated team to the opportunity - four sales professionals, including Harbar; a part-time assistant; and herself. At press time, the team was engaging in training and looking forward to speaking with customers, working closely with the manufacturer.
"And one thing we really like is the reliability of the Panasonic products," adds Harbar. "Panasonic is so confident about its products that it offers them all on a three-year warranty as standard, and two of the healthcare products also come with incremental damage cover for the first years."
A Premier healthcare opportunity
Others in the channel have already been reaping rewards in the healthcare market - such as Advanced Computer Software (ACS), whose healthcare division deployed its iConnect mobile monitoring app, bundled with ACS's roster app Staffplan alongside handsets and air-time, for Premier Care Dorset in November.
Cliff de Jong, company secretary at the 75-strong community care provider, said rosters used to be sent via post or SMS - time-consuming and expensive methods: "ACS's software has already enabled us to reduce costs related to post, paper, toner cartridges and texting by 50 per cent, which will save us thousands of pounds each year. We are saving time too.
"We have managed to reduce the time it takes to collate and manage timesheet information from three days a week to just one. As a result, we now have more time to focus on other activities." The new technology is also more secure, he added.
Vendor set to invest more across Europe as demand for its Toughbook/ToughPad range soars