How do we best combine the digital and physical worlds in healthcare?

A women wearing a white lab coat in a healthcare environment using a black tablet while smiling.

The pandemic caused huge changes in how we access healthcare with a big shift to phone and online consultations replacing face-to-face appointments where appropriate. And while some have preferred to go back to in-person appointments, for many the ability to access medical advice without having to travel to see a doctor is far more convenient. Other technological advances, from electronic patient records to harnessing the power of artificial intelligence algorithms in analysing medical scans, are also already helping improve efficiency and productivity in the NHS.

Given the scope for technology to transform the NHS, we enjoyed attending NHS Property 2023 recently; this year’s theme was “Creating an estate fit for the future”. The event brought together NHS, wider public sector and property organisations to exchange ideas for addressing upcoming challenges for property professionals within the public sector.

We were pleased to share the stage at the event in a fireside chat with Carolyn Botfield, Director of System Transformation and Infrastructure, NHS North East London. The topic was how to accelerate estate digitalisation with cellular connectivity and Carolyn shared fantastic insights on the importance of considering both the physical and digital estate and weaving them together to maximise benefits for all users, from patients to clinicians.

Digital placemaking research

Digital placemaking refers to the augmentation of physical places with location-specific digital services, products or experiences to create more meaningful places for all. Last year NHS North East London engaged a researcher to explore how digital placemaking can enhance the physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing of North East London’s stakeholder communities. In particular it revealed how digital placemaking can be incorporated into the strategic planning of future healthcare facilities and their neighbouring public realm. With people interacting with things on two levels now, both physically and digitally, this needs to be factored into planning.

Look to industry for ideas

As referred to above, technology can bring huge benefits to healthcare. And with wireless connectivity costing a fraction of the cost of cabling, cellular can be a core enabler for bringing new technologies and ways of working into the NHS.

Carolyn mentioned the Dorothy app, a wayfinding innovation. One of its features is that it uses augmented reality to create a digital yellow brick road to help people in care homes find their way around and keep them connected to their caregiver. This app could also be extremely useful for anyone visiting a hospital to help navigate their way around, given that hospitals are often sprawling and complex buildings, as long as the hospital has the right in-building connectivity to support the app.

She also spoke of the potential efficiency benefits of adding tagging sensors to all on-duty staff as well as equipment, from ultrasound machines to drug store keys. Not only does this make tracking down equipment much easier, it also makes it faster to find a colleague that you want to speak to about something quickly. Again, this is predicated on the right in-building connectivity being available in the healthcare setting.

There are lots of great examples of how connectivity can help deliver healthcare in new ways. By becoming more informed about the possibilities out there it can help in building informed business cases.

Building a business case

As shown by some of the questions following the fireside chat, building a business case for connectivity is a crucial step. Carolyn spoke of how she has set up a regular partnership meeting with all the estates directors in her area so that they can work through things together.

For those looking to evidence a business case, aggregating demand or “use case stacking” can help form a more consolidated picture of the benefits cellular connectivity can bring. The advantage in having neutral host in-building cellular connectivity for all four mobile network operators isn’t just that it allows patients, clinicians and visitors to use their mobiles as normal wherever they are in the hospital. It means real time access to patient data, without a clinician having to worry about a device disconnecting due to overloaded Wi-Fi. It means staff can use secure and reliable communication and collaboration tools to improve efficiency. It allows for the quick and secure transmission of medical images, facilitating timely consultations and diagnoses. There are an almost infinite number of technologies that can be used once the right layer of digital infrastructure is in place.

Cellular connectivity has already changed the way we live and work and is going to continue to be hugely transformational in healthcare.

If you have any questions about how cellular connectivity infrastructure could be incorporated into your healthcare setting and the benefits it could bring, please contact us.