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The Technology Conundrum - Information, access and security

December, 2012

In today’s changing world of technology the pressure is forever increasing to deliver greater performance. One way for healthcare organisations to compete is to adopt the latest technologies such as smart phones, tablets, Wi-Fi devices, scheduling and location software amongst others; which can allow teams to communicate easily between each other, gain access to patient details, direct people effectively to events or issue medicines quickly and accurately to the right patient. Completed without manual intervention allows employees to go about their everyday activities in the most efficient way, increasing output and effectiveness but very often at a cost.  The use of the latest technologies does not only look and feel right for users, within high tech facilities, high technology devices are able to save time in transferring details to the right person and the right time, or allows data to be retrieved from wherever it is required, thereby saving time spent finding who is available and where they are, or searching for records.

Today, many individuals use more sophisticated technology for communicating socially than that available in many businesses. The pressure to keep up with new devices and capabilities is high, especially when many can bring improved business operations, access to information and greater available of staff by the mere touch of a button. But the opportunities available from technology are not necessarily supported by the investment available with budgets being restrained. The pressure therefore to reduce expenditure gives rise to initiatives such as BOYD which allows users to have one device for themselves which they also use in the work environment.

Under the BOYD scenario it is difficult for healthcare organisations to provide access to the array of patient information and retain a satisfactory level of security. Staff devices are removed from the work place after working hours, thereby creating a security issue should information reside on the device. Employee devices often run a host of software applications; spyware and viruses can reside on these devices and transmit information unknowingly to unknown recipients. When business issues are critical a consumer phone may not be in a suitable state to react. Messages or calls can be missed, applications can override basic phone functions and employee personal lives can creep into the business environment, reducing their effectiveness  and focus on the task in hand – savings can translate to increased costs or reduced performance.

Security does not only affect data storage and its transfer. Voice calls transmitting sensitive information breach data security rules where discussions broadcast over hands-free or other loudspeaker devices refer to individuals and any sensitive information such as their condition or requirements. Spending vast amounts on keeping digital data secure isn’t a wise investment if the details securely held are simply broadcast for all to hear.

Providing the right tools for the job is often overlooked when designing communications for the future. Certain roles do not require access to the latest technologies but can use existing infrastructures in which you have already invested. In doing so reorganising your existing communications can free up budget for those that need the latest devices. Mobile workforces can utilise cost effective technologies such as DECT, critical messaging can run over tried and trusted paging systems, consultants, doctors etc who need access to instant information can be provided with dedicated smart devices and software which erase patient data after use, so if a device is lost or stolen nothing is accessible. A dedicated work device can be isolated from using other programmes eliminating spyware and virus intervention ensuring the security of sensitive information. Health organisations are complex and require a complex mix of technologies to run effectively, broad brush technology shifts are costly and assume one system fits all. What is required for optimal performance may be best decided with the aid of the users. Important factors are not always costly technology advances but operating procedures or reliability, some of which may be resolved by redeploying existing hardware. While retaining old infrastructure may be counter to improving and updating communications, it could be the means to fund the technologies required for the future where they are needed.

Overall health organisations cannot afford to ignore technology, those that adopt and adapt to the new pressures and means of working under the latest networks and devices will inevitably find performance gains, but to do so when budgets are constrained needs careful technology planning for the long term future not the short term status of having the latest. New technologies are arriving all the time, commitments to anything today needs to be upgradable or able to embrace whatever comes next. Investment needs therefore to be a well-considered decision for the long term investment and performance improvements of the organisation that technologies can bring, so that investment today does not become the burden of tomorrow.

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The Technology Conundrum - Information, access and security