What challenges do IT professionals in the healthcare sector face?

Maintel's Rob Orford investigates some of the key IT challenges facing NHS IT professionals in 2016. 

What is distinctive about the challenges now facing IT and network managers working in the public healthcare sector?

The main challenge facing network managers in the public healthcare sector is that the demand for mobility has gone up greatly in hospitals. Hospitals now want clinical access to systems at the bedside, or point of care as it’s known. This means that networks are moving from fixed access to mobile access via Wi-Fi.

This digital change is viewed as of paramount strategic importance, with many NHS Trusts investing significant amounts in networking procurement. It is the top priority facing every NHS trust. As a result network managers are also facing the challenge of significant cost pressure.

The NHS London 2012 Safe Report forecast a £1.2bn productivity opportunity over the ensuing 5 years. However even if that productivity opportunity was realised through improved efficiencies and cost reductions, NHs Trusts would still face a deficit as a result of growing disparity between the growth in the demand for care and budgets. The unique challenge here for network managers is trying to deliver substantial change in an environment where their resources are shrinking. This is forcing them to look for more innovative ways of working.

How do these challenges differ from those faced by their counterparts employed in other vertical sectors?

The unique challenge facing IT and network managers within the NHS are the policies which are put upon them which dictate the speed which this change needs to be delivers. For example, Jeremy Hunt, Department of Health, has put in place a strategy which dictates that hospitals must have digitised their patient records by 2018. This is an unprecedented challenge, and in fact it is now widely considered that this should move back to 2020. The ability of these policies to dictate and change the expected pace of digital change is a unique challenge, and one facing network managers within the NHS much more than in an enterprise in another vertical sector.

Another challenge facing the network manager is that data security requires special treatment above and beyond that necessary in a corporate environment. If it’s in the air, on Wi-Fi, it’s paramount that sensitive patient data cannot be accessed. As a result it has to be encrypted or securely tunnelled in a VPN.

Is the issue of supporting mobile devices accentuated and complicated in public healthcare?

Within NHS domains, its IT now has to support a broad range of remote devices, including standard smartphones and tablets running professional apps, dedicated medical devices, bedside technology, patient and hospital visitor devices, along with standard fixed applications for hospital administration, business applications, and premises management. Catering to this diverse range of requirements is undoubtedly a huge operational challenge.

Mobile device management in public healthcare can and does throw up unique challenges, particularly when it comes to security. IT must ensure that mobile devices are secure, that data on the device is encrypted and can be removed if the device is lost, and that NHS security standards are adhered to. The network manager also must ensure that devices have effective infection control, and must make sure that the device is capable of being hygienically wiped and will not pass on infections.

Most Trusts have the policies in place for what they can and can’t do – covering everything from cameras on phones, to patient confidentially and privacy. Are these policies operationally feasible? They have to be. A public healthcare system has to be able to enforce these policies – because the challenges around these technological cost efficiencies demands it. If the hospital or Trust is struggling with catering to a diverse range of requirements then a managed services partner on site can help them develop and implement efficient and feasible policies.