How are health and social care organisations using technology to improve patient outcomes? Comms Business talks to companies supporting healthcare customers to find out.

Technology is transforming health and social care organisations, with improvements made to resources, employee satisfaction and patient outcomes. With organisations ready to invest in new technologies that can unlock those results, channel companies are finding many opportunities across the sector.

Dave O’Shaughnessy, healthcare practice leader, Avaya International, discussed three main trends that he said are pushing healthcare providers towards technology-based solutions. These are: increased pressure on resources, remote healthcare and telehealth services, and AI-driven personalised healthcare services.

He said, “Unprecedented rises in inflation as well as the perpetual difficulty in the recruitment of skilled hospital staff at all levels means that healthcare providers are now more open to technology solutions that can help to ease the administrative burden on staff and patients.”

O’Shaughnessy explained that offering a range of suitable telehealth services – which could include voice, email, and SMS, video, live-chat, chatbot, and even social media services – “can be more convenient for patients and more efficient and cost-effective for healthcare organisations”.

He added, “The key to getting remote healthcare right is providing a suitable hybrid balance between in-person and telehealth services. Patients want to know that one-off video-consultations will not be the limit to engaging with their healthcare provider. The importance of open communication between the patient and their healthcare provider will be essential for the successful adoption and usage of these services. Enabling patients to communicate over their channel of preference and one that they feel most comfortable with and best suits their healthcare needs will become a key part of the successful adoption of remote care services.”

For Dan Cunliffe, managing director, Pangea, the internet of things (IoT) offers a lot of promise for tackling challenges across the sector. He said, “It’s hard to think of a sector that’s being as radically altered by technological developments as health and social care. The challenges are numerous: ageing populations, rising healthcare costs, an increasing need for digital interoperability and home-based care. But the IoT is spearheading just as many solutions, from remote monitoring and telehealth to predictive analytics and AI.”

Cunliffe pointed to some real-world examples of how the IoT is transforming healthcare. These could include: “An elderly man, living alone, wears an alarm that triggers an emergency response if he has a fall. A diabetic child wears a glucose monitor and insulin pump so they can safely manage their diabetes. A ward nurse keeps clean-rooms hygienic and at the correct temperature thanks to smart sensors.

“A paramedic sends live video footage of a woman experiencing organ failure to the specialist waiting at the hospital so they can assess what treatment is needed on arrival at A&E. The opportunities for reducing costs, improving patient outcomes and experience, and even cutting energy use in the sector are mind blowing.”

Tim Loynes, director, Cellnex UK In-Building Solutions, added, “There’s no denying that emerging technologies are having a transformative impact on the healthcare industry by enhancing patient care, outcomes and efficiency. While some of these innovations are still being developed and implemented, more administrative tasks, which were once carried out manually are now completed on mobile devices and require consistent connectivity.

“Patient data, asset tracking and management of medical supplies and equipment is digitally logged, with staff able to access information in one secure place. To make the most out of these advancements, hospitals need nonstop coverage and connectivity, which offers an opportunity for channel partners.”

Organisations within the health and social care sector are vast. From an at-home care provider with 30 staff through to a large teaching hospital with 2,500 employees, the solutions that different types of providers need will be varied.

Sue Michaelwaite, solutions manager, 8x8, discussed the importance of understanding the procurement processes of different organisations. She said, “An increasingly ageing population, the cost-of-living crisis and increased awareness of mental health are increasing demand for health and social services. At the same time budgets are being cut and staff are becoming burnt out and leaving the profession. The need to create an environment that delivers outcomes faster and more cost-effectively has never been stronger.

“The first step to delivering services to health and social care is to understand the roles within the organisation, including the roles of the Integrated Care Bodies and NHS Trusts. It is also important to understand the differing requirements, buying cycles and processes across services.”

Alex Finn, global partner manager at Evolve IP, explained how GP surgeries are investing in communications software. He said, “We’re seeing health and social care boards introducing frameworks across their digital cloud systems to find economies of scale, whilst addressing the needs of each surgery.

“Post-pandemic there’s a huge need and pressure to drive down call queues and minimise patient complaints. Wait times can be anywhere between 30-60 mins. There’s a big opportunity for the channel here to help improve service levels and reduce appointment backlogs to ensure a more streamlined and efficient overall service and increase capacity.

“A lack of remote working capability is another problem with an inability to link multiple sites and surgeries. Remote collaboration is often disjointed and disparate across the same organisation.”

Mission-critical solutions

Despite the variety across the health and social care sector, some technologies are coming into the spotlight as particularly in demand. Cunliffe, from Pangea, discussed the network services that hospitals and other healthcare facilities will require to deliver on the objectives of IoT projects.

He said, “Solutions are often bandwidth-hungry, low latency, and data-heavy. Clever businesses can tap into the demand for 5G connectivity, and private LTE solutions by providing the bandwidth and resolute reliability to support mission-critical applications.”

Cunliffe also emphasised the importance of using the right networking approach for specific needs, pointing to LPWAN as one example of a network technology for certain requirements. He said, “When partners need to connect devices over a wide area and for long periods of time – like remote patient monitoring, real-time data transmission, asset tracking, or using environmental sensors – LPWAN is a cost-effective, efficient option. It offers reliable, high-quality care with less power usage.”

UCaaS and CCaaS solutions are also emerging as one way to help solve patient backlogs. Finn, from Evolve IP, said, “Cloud-based technologies have a big role to play in addressing many of the core issues the health sector is currently facing. UCaaS and CCaaS can be used to reduce call queuing and are two of the most effective ways forward and are being widely adopted. Integration with clinical systems is paramount too across the three main healthcare platforms to boost productivity.

Finn added that many health and social care customers will require data to ensure they’re meeting certain KPI’s set by the trusts, so being able to offer a solutions that supports that requirement will be vital.

The health and social care sector is also more open to cloud-based solutions than in the past. Michaelwaite, from 8x8, said, “Digitalisation is at the top of the agenda to be able to better serve patients and speed up journeys through care pathways. Across health and social care, there is a lot of legacy equipment that needs to be updated and initiatives in place to move technologies to the cloud and realise the benefits of SaaS and the integration capabilities it offers. Major considerations for buyers and technical teams when selecting a new solution are the security of patient data and having the right network infrastructure to ensure reliability.

“Digitisation has become essential to connect systems, data and communications from the front desk, through to clinicians, management and governing bodies, to deliver efficiencies and speed up journeys through care pathways.”

Private networks

As healthcare organisations adopt technology, the networks on which those solutions run are coming under the microscope. Hospitals, GP surgeries and other types of organisations need assurance that their networks will meet their requirements. For this reason, the spotlight is being put on private networks. Loynes, from Cellnex UK, explained that hospitals are often vast buildings and “not all of them are modern or built with connectivity in mind”. Connectivity not-spots are widespread, from lift shafts to stairwells and connecting corridors.

Loynes said, “Private Networks bring a number of benefits to a healthcare environment. Low latency and high bandwidth connectivity eliminates outages, so operations which require connectivity to function are never at risk of going down. The secure network also delivers data protection and compliance by restricting access from outside.”

Loynes added that distributed antenna systems (DAS) are also effective in-building solutions that provide enhanced cellular coverage within buildings, effectively extending the reach of wireless networks. He explained, “By strategically placing antennas throughout the site, DAS overcomes the limitations posed by thick walls and structural obstacles, ensuring strong, consistent and cost-effective 4G or 5G indoor connectivity for staff, patients and visitors.”

He emphasised the importance of ensuring outages are mitigated. “Considering the vast array of medical equipment already in widespread use – from waiting room management systems to biosensors for health monitoring, and communication tools like Smartpage, or smartphones for doctors and nurses. It’s vital that outages are prevented to keep these systems running.

“Connectivity solutions including in-building DAS can address these issues by providing uninterrupted wireless coverage. DAS can help to improve communications within the hospital itself, meaning it’s easier for health workers to quickly respond to issues, no matter where they are; and patients and visitors can easily make external calls.”

Serving healthcare customers

When asked what resellers and MSPs need to prioritise to serve the evolving needs of this sector, Michaelwaite, from 8x8, highlighted the importance of security and compliance. She said, “The first step to delivering services to health and social care organisations is to make sure the products you want to supply conform to their minimum standards for security and compliance. After this, it is important to ensure your business meets the requirements of the bid frameworks and to get onto these frameworks.”

Finn, from Evolve IP, added, “Identifying pain points of individual surgeries and larger practices is the first objective. During the pandemic remote communication was the safest way for patients to be assessed and gain advice. This is still accelerating with more video calls and telephone appointments to ensure less footfall is going through a surgery. UCaaS technology comes into its own here.
Channel companies could also find opportunities through ensuring they can deliver projects without disruption.

O’Shaughnessy, from Avaya, said, “Healthcare teams are learning what could be possible if all the separate pieces of communications and healthcare technology worked together in an integrated and holistic way. Some resellers and MSPs can see the direction that digital healthcare is moving towards, which is a more connected, interoperable, automated digital experience. This direction requires partners to find and establish new audiences and relationships then have new business and operational discussions with them.

“Another important conversation partners should be having with customers is that, with the right technology partner, customers can achieve innovation without disruption through the benefits of cloud whether on-premises, fully public cloud or hybrid.”

Tackling challenges

To succeed in this ambitious sector, resellers and MSPs will need to engage with the challenges across the market. The cautious nature of many healthcare organisations means they will often look at existing suppliers before commencing new projects. As such, acting as a trusted advisor and making the most of existing relationships is essential.

O’Shaughnessy, from Avaya International, said, “The primary challenge for many resellers is that they may not have established business relationships with the operational side of healthcare organisations, such as with the clinical-side of a hospital or with patient-management groups, and these are the groups that are experiencing the everyday challenges with resource-shortages, increased demand for services, and evolving patient expectations in how healthcare services are accessed and delivered.

“Often resellers have well established relationships with the telecoms or IT side of the healthcare organisations, and that may limit the ability to learn about the evolving challenges in healthcare services, especially as in many cases those groups are already digitally transforming, implementing new services and applications such as electronic health records, smart device and web-based apps, IoT monitoring, or sensor devices.

“Unfortunately, these groups may not be aware or fully appreciate the huge potential for incorporating and integrating digital communications and collaboration technologies into many of those new digital workflows and processes so are missing out on the great benefit and value of ‘thinking connected’ with these technologies. Instigating and building that relationship into such groups in healthcare organisations will help to bring those discovery conversations to being and start the journey towards more integrated, interoperable services and workflows.”

It is also important to consider how daunting much-needed transformation projects can be for organisations that primarily want to focus on their patients. Channel companies that can take care of the technology so hospitals and clinics can focus on healthcare are setting themselves up for success.

Michaelwaite, from 8x8, said, “One of the biggest challenges for health and social care is the enormity of the project of digitalisation. There’s also a perception, on the grounds, of cost that the transformations will be expensive.

“A potential worry with regards to this is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as organisations keep delaying the work, causing them to fall further behind while the cost also increases. To avoid this, a proper strategy is essential so that incremental work and progress can be carried out as budget becomes available – but the strategy is essential, otherwise you can be wasting money.”

Resilient, scalable and secure

The opportunities for growth in the health and social care sector go hand in hand with some major challenges. Cunliffe, from Pangea, explained that “resellers and MSPs need to focus on continuity so their partners can keep solutions up and running at all times” as “device downtime in this field can truly be a matter of life and death”.

He added, “Patient information is highly sensitive but also needs to be shared by healthcare professionals. So we need connectivity solutions, standards, and platforms where different systems can communicate and share highly sensitive patient data — not just seamlessly, but securely. And that’s not to mention the outdated tech and increasing strain on the NHS and social care systems.”

Cunliffe highlighted the opportunity and the smart deployment of technology that is needed to capitalise on those opportunities. He said, “The channel needs to deliver resilient, scalable, and secure solutions so that healthcare providers can easily integrate new tech and upgrade their existing provision.

“There’s no room for disruption, outages, or buffering. The only flashing lights we want to see are on the ambulances racing to help people in need.”

This market report appeared in our November 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.