Mobile care is nothing new in general practice, home visits have been part of a GPs role for a long time but there has always been the potential for different levels of care being provided outside of the practice.

Driven by current government strategy to help support the aging population and growing level of long term conditions, clinicians are finding they are being given more and more support in both delivering care in patients’ homes and ensuring that care is as informed, accurate and reliable as within traditional healthcare settings.

Part of this support comes in the form of new technologies which are being specifically developed to help remote clinicians and their patients. To understand the potential impact, as well as the benefits of mobile care, we’ve spoken to several experts with experience in remote care. From the developers of technology to the end users, we’ve gathered their opinions to get insight into how technology can help staff and patients, while also getting their thoughts on what considerations should be made when implementing solutions.

Keeping up to date

Visits outside of the practice are crucial to some patients and ensure that those who are less mobile receive the care that they need. But that doesn’t mean that mobile working doesn’t come without its problems. Being away from the practice can mean that clinicians are left without access to the tools they need to make effective assessments. This is why Ian Bailey, senior clinical information consultant at EMIS Health, says that “mobile devices are absolutely key” to those working remotely.

This is because clinicians on the road often don’t have the support network around them that they have in the practice. As Ian continues, “technology designed for mobile workers can reduce the risk of professionals having to make decisions without access to information,” helping to “improve clinical outcomes” and “benefit patient safety.” Chris Stocks, practice manager at Grenoside Surgery in North Sheffield, also thinks that when it comes to giving clinicians mobile devices for remote working, “the benefits are clear.” Having recently deployed EMIS Anywhere, the GPs at his practice now have “full access to EMIS services” when visiting patients, allowing them to view and update patient records. This uninterrupted access to data also forms part of Chris’ business continuity plan, giving him “added confidence” that Grenoside Surgery’s GPs will still be able to continue working in the event of “bad weather” or other disruptions.

Improved patient experience

Having access to this information not only improves decision making but also saves clinical time, helping to, as Ian Bailey points out, “make the NHS more efficient” as “clinicians don’t have to travel back to the clinic, office or practice to gather information.” And less time spent on completing administrative tasks means that more time can be spent focusing on patients and their care.

This is the case for Grenoside Surgery, who have a contract to provide GP services to a 28-bed residential care home. Here Chris Stocks details how GPs go out for “weekly planned visits where up to 15 patients may need be to seen for a review.” These GPs will also attend “urgent unplanned visits” to help the elderly residents. When making visits the GPs will “link to the home’s WiFi” with their mobile devices so that “information such as medication changes can be instantly recorded,” helping to “save significant time back at the surgery”. This means that these patients are getting the most from the clinical visits, all while being assessed and cared for in a setting comfortable to them.

Caring for patients in their homes can also be achieved without clinicians actually having to go and make visits to those patients’ homes. As Claire Medd, market development director at Intel points out, “new light weight thin computers with built-in security, instant on, touch screens and removable keyboards” are bringing about “important new ways of working, like the usage of secure screen sharing with annotation capability and live video feeds for remote consultations and collaborations.” These modes of working are “critical in today’s healthcare environment” and are providing flexibility in ways of delivering care.

The nature of this care outside of the practice or clinic means that, as Ian Bailey says, “a housebound patient often receives care from many different clinicians.” Community teams therefore benefit from mobile devices, as they allow clinicians to access medical records while on the go. This not only informs the clinician providing the care but can also “impact on the patient experience.” Ian identifies that “if there are new nurses visiting a patient without knowing their history, that patient is likely to have to recount their story again and again. With the right access to information, every nurse will already know that story.” Claire Medd from Intel agrees with Ian, stating that “as care teams become more diverse and distributed, staying connected to manage patients is key to delivering an exceptional experience.” With a continuity in patient care, clinicians across care teams are ensuring that those they are helping have the best experience possible.

Clinical staff satisfaction

Despite hearing about patient improvements, there was another clear message from almost everyone that we spoke to: that the impact of technology upon staff isn’t considered often enough. As Ian sums it up, “it’s a big issue that we don’t always think of the benefits to clinicians as the users of technology – we usually focus on the improvement to a patients’ care or experience.” But since “mobile devices work for everyone – not just patients, but clinicians too,” it’s important that we look at how technology can affect staff satisfaction.

Chris Stocks decided to implement mobile devices at his practice precisely because he wanted to make working life easier for clinical staff. As he points out, the majority of GPs at Grenoside work part time. Mobile devices therefore give these GPs a “degree of flexible working”, allowing them to “plan for the next day at work without the need to actually be in work.” This also lets staff complete “pre-clinic work, such as prescription checks, laboratory results and so on.”

By implementing technology that serves the GPs’ needs, Chris mentions that Grenoside Surgery hopes to be able to “aid recruitment and retention,” a particular concern when thinking of “the recruitment issues facing general practice at this time.” He also hopes that the move will “attract a younger workforce with family commitments to consider working for the surgery.”

Consider the options

Despite the benefits of mobile working, there are considerations that need to be made when deploying technological solutions.

It’s Claire Medd’s view that technology should be considered with the “user perspective” in mind. For her, “devices need to run fast” and “batteries need to last long enough for an entire shift” – especially since “there’s little more frustrating than a ‘mobile’ device that needs to be plugged in to recharge, or that takes forever to boot up.” Thought should also be put into “device manageability: that is, how to provision new devices and address issues that inevitably arise while the user is in the field.” A way to tackle these points is to effectively use IT administrators who can “access devices remotely, troubleshoot issues, recover data and track both hardware and software.”

Ian Bailey agrees that the needs of staff have to be thought of, stating that “different skill levels and experiences with technology should be considered” before changes are implemented. It is only through technology that is “embedded and embraced across teams, rather than used in isolation” that it can help to “transform both the patient and clinical experience.”

What’s clear, then, is that any deployments need to be given careful thought. Nick Helman, operations director at Egton, recently wrote about some of the aspects of an implementation that need to be contemplated, stating that “knowing what habits to change and what technology to introduce requires careful consideration.” To read more on what Nick considers important, click here.

Successful mobile working for everyone

Traditionally, mobile care has been seen as largely beneficial to patients. However, with technology, the benefits of remote work can be keenly felt by both clinicians and patients. With the correct planning and implementation, mobile devices can support healthcare professionals in making fully informed decisions to the benefit of patients in their care, whilst also helping clinicians make their roles work for them.

Steve Wilcock

Managing Director, Egton

Mobile clinicians have long been helping patients, but with remote devices and systems designed to assist healthcare professionals, the benefits can be more widely felt by everyone. From improved access to information to making working life more flexible, mobile devices can enhance everyone’s experience. With the growing focus on remote work as a means to deliver care, mobile devices and technologies are only going to become more important in supporting that care delivery in the future.