Dr Michael Quinn (pictured below), a consultant physician at the Belfast Trust, an informatician at Queen’s University Belfast, and a member of the Clinical Advisory Board at BT, looks at how future innovation and the threat of cyber attacks is impacting the healthcare sector
The NHS needs to be armed with connectivity and fully-interoperable systems, according to Dr Michael Quinn
The ecosystem of our NHS is incredibly complex, with various components working together to ensure it can perform.
For clinicians and NHS staff to deliver high-quality patient care, connectivity, while largely invisible, is crucial for allowing colleagues to share information via apps and digital platforms and co-ordinate with one another seamlessly.
To do this successfully, the NHS must be armed with ubiquitous connectivity and fully-interoperable systems.
However, recent findings show more progress needs to be made.
According to recent BT research, 58% of workers suffer from building not-spots (areas that receive little to no connectivity), causing more than half (51%) to switch between devices, systems, and networks to conduct tasks.
In turn, this compromises working efficiency and can impact the quality of patient care.
Positively, cultural attitudes towards digital transformation efforts have changed.
Seamless analysis and sharing of data are widely recognised as central to a digitally-enhanced health service, as 98% of respondents agree that network, wi-fi infrastructure, and mobile technology is critical to future innovations in the delivery of healthcare.
To ensure technology fulfils its purpose to support the NHS and ensure it operates as a cohesive, integrated system, the priority must be to overcome issues embedded in current IT infrastructures
But adoption of this technology has not happened at a fast enough pace – 59% of NHS staff cite delays to the integration of new technology with existing systems as one of the biggest challenges faced, with almost one in four (24%) reverting to dated processes.
And the underlying network does not have the capacity to support full digital capabilities, clogging the potential for further innovation.
To ensure technology fulfils its purpose to support the NHS and ensure it operates as a cohesive, integrated system, the priority must be to overcome issues embedded in current IT infrastructures.
Poor working tech infrastructures, underpinned by the network difficulties, give rise to another set of challenges.
Staff are forced to swap between devices to complete their work, which is increasing the risk of falling target to ransomware and cyber attacks.
When it comes to safeguarding confidential client data, there needs to be secure cyber security in place to protect against cyber criminals.
However, inefficient technology can present a daily risk and, with the number of healthcare organisations increasingly falling victim to cyber crime, the sector must have more-robust infrastructures in place.
Attacks compromise patient safety and disrupt critical services, causing delays or interruptions.
And, when every second makes a critical difference in delivering life-saving patient care, time is of the utmost importance for the NHS.
On a wider scale, it is the NHS’s legal obligation to protect patient data and maintain confidentiality.
Criminals can steal people’s private data with potential to cause the NHS legal ramifications, significant fines, and a damaged reputation.
Inefficient technology can present a daily risk and, with the number of healthcare organisations increasingly falling victim to cyber crime, the sector must have more-robust infrastructures in place
All it takes is one phishing email to land in an unsuspecting staff member’s inbox, as findings reveal just over half (53%) of workers do not receive training on new and existing technology.
Meanwhile, one fifth say they do not receive adequate training, and 4% do not receive any training at all.
Therefore, to build a robust defence, all staff will need to work together and become aware of the threats and their repercussions.
But, at its core, tech must work to meet industry needs, making it urgent to enforce greater security and improve connectivity.
Although the data points to the need to enhance cyber security training for staff, data security is not the first consideration in a frontline clinical setting.
In such a large workforce operating in high-risk, complex settings, human error will always present a risk.
Simply investing more in innovative technology is not the answer, it requires a new approach that factors in every challenge to connectivity
Increased responsibility of additional cyber security measures falling on staff because of poor IT infrastructures will negatively impact working cultures for an already-strained workforce.
Technology is there to support staff, not add further stress, and clinicians just want tech that works.
In response to this, as technology experts, BT is working with the NHS to lead the charge in securing the perimeters and embed device security measures as a priority for protecting staff and patients.
Simply investing more in innovative technology is not the answer, it requires a new approach that factors in every challenge to connectivity.
Here, co-creation is a necessity.
By speaking to those on the frontline, we can use clinically-led insights to guide a digitally-enabled service to make a lasting impact connecting clinicians and patients.
Like all elements of digital healthcare, achieving effective security is accomplished by collaborating with trusted partners to undergo Digital Maturity Assessments (DMA) to evaluate the current situation.
From there, collaborative ways of working will achieve specific, actionable outcomes that will support the NHS for long-term success, while addressing the multitude of short-term technology shortfalls.
A strong technological foundation will benefit staffing levels by retaining talent, attracting more young, digital natives to the workforce, positioning the NHS as a digital-first organisation, and, most importantly, creating a positive place to work.
If we want to ensure the long-term prosperity of the NHS, preparation for tomorrow must start today.
By enhancing connectivity, the wider NHS ecosystem will benefit, empowering staff to perform to their best ability.