Panel of Experts: Communications Technology

How important are seamless communications technologies in ensuring that the operational systems of a hospital run smoothly and safely? Our latest Panel of Experts share their thoughts

This year the NHS has been stretched like never before. Much of the reporting of how the health service has handled the coronavirus pandemic has centred upon the supply of personal protective equipment, or early lack there of, staff absence and illness, and, most noticeably, the space required within our hospitals to receive, treat and maintain the health of the sickest patients. This has resulted in both the construction of a number of Nightingale hospitals to treat patients with coronavirus, and the cancellation of what is considered routine treatments, including cancer care.

Whilst this has been rightly acknowledged, and in some cases addressed by the government, an area that has gone more unnoticed is how the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted communication channels within the hospital estate. Now more than ever before, as Radiocomms’ Julie Lewis points out, a connected workforce is a safe workforce.

Seamless communications technologies are vital in ensuring that the operational systems of a hospital run smoothly and safely. Hospitals are dynamic and event driven environments where every team must communicate effectively to make accurate and often critical decisions. This has always been the case, and over the last few years we have seen the increasing importance of data and digital technologies in supporting essential operational KPIs to deliver both continuity and resiliency.

However, since the start of the pandemic, healthcare operations have found themselves not only addressing on site communication requirements, but also tackling processes to connect employees amongst varying facilities, such as urgent care clinics, support teams moving between sites and remote workers. Julie Lewis believes that using real-time communication solutions paired with AI can serve many purposes including voice, video and data exchange amongst healthcare teams and patient location services, whilst enhancing external collaboration with other providers and public safety.

Moreover, solutions can also report out on actionable and historical data that can be generated from the software platform, in real-time. By creating efficient root cause analysis, she says, the data can support the drive to holistic decision making whether it be considerations for new safety measures or adjustments to operational workflows, for example.

John Charlton, of Motorola Solutions, is in agreement but suggests the value of considering the wider meaning of ‘communication’. In our discussion on seamless communications, John points out that when workers, equipment and processes all communicate and connect with each other, ‘everything else can happen more effectively’. An example of this is the Safety Reimagined initiative, which describes ways to help achieve this and one of the main verticals that Motorola Solutions is looking to cover is ‘Safe Hospitals’ - a modular ecosystem that unifies voice, data, video and analytics on one connected platform.

Safe Hospitals offers healthcare providers and security operations teams an end-to-end security solution that covers a larger area with improved technology. Using Safe Hospitals solutions, customers can detect threats accurately, analyse data quickly, communicate information easily, and respond to incidents decisively. This, John says, helps deliver the certainty of safety you need to deliver on your promise of quality care and patient satisfaction.

Existing workflows
Radiocoms know that it is a critical consideration in the decision making process to determine how any new communication technologies at a hospital or trust can be mobilised to support existing workflows by interacting with existing systems and supporting crisis management. They are a unique regulatory environment, but, Julie Lewis highlights, it is essential to consider the goal, operations managers are trying to strike a balance and maximise ROI on any communication system adjustments or new investments.

Any technology implemented should simplify and enhance workflows, not hamper them or force different behaviour due to short-comings of the equipment selected. Choosing the right solution can make it quicker, easier, and safer for healthcare workers to carry out their jobs, allowing them to focus on providing care and not on getting the technology to work.

Julie uses research showing that 71 per cent of hospitals identify mobile communications as a priority to emphasise that, often, the organisation find users are dissatisfied with the ‘antiquated, analogue communication tools’ including overhead paging, landline phones and pagers which can be are poorly designed and not integrating with a workflow.

Healthcare estates are now in investing in mobile-based clinical communications platforms that can address existing security, privacy, and compliance workflows. Ultimately, Radiocoms looks to deploy interoperable communication technologies that deliver better operational outcomes and patient care. Motorola Solutions technologies, for example, enable secure multichannel conversations (talk, text, video) that can be integrated with existing workflows whilst ensuring that sensitive healthcare-related data is protected according to industry standard requirements.

Equally, our panellists acknowledge that there may be times that modifying a workflow in order to allow the introduction of a new technology makes sense when it drives an overall improvement and, in those cases, it’s crucial for the healthcare professionals and technology supplier to work hand-in-hand to create the best outcome.

Which brings our conversation towards how existing technologies and services, such as those provided by Radiocoms and Motorola Solutions, connect healthcare estates on one platform to create a more efficient and safer environment.

Statistics show that 75 per cent of workplace assaults occur in healthcare settings. Interoperable technology platforms can increase collaboration and create safer working environments, but, Julie Lewis points out, the NHS faces an increasing challenge to improve service while working under a shrinking budget.

It is the challenges such as these, as well as the more physical security challenges that John Charlton addresses. Challenges unlike any other enterprise, he says, such as patients, visitors and staff coming and going 24/7, valuable assets like pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to be secured and monitored and patients to be cared for and protected. To help solve those issues and more, Motorola Solutions has reimagined how the technologies used to help keep hospitals safe, can do even more to drive efficiencies, improve productivity and generate better outcomes. Because safety, efficiency and productivity are deeply interconnected, by utilising the right technologies, you can be faster, smarter, more focused and more resilient.  

Motorola Solutions has created the first and only end-to-end technology ecosystem that unifies voice, video, data and analytics on one single platform, providing you with the foundation of safety you need to address the unique challenges of your estate. The company has also combined its fixed and body-worn cameras, two-way radios, broadband communication devices, operations control room software and analytics into a single ecosystem that allows clients to detect, analyse, communicate and respond to events, whether they are everyday activities or unexpected incidents.

By focusing on structure, services, and varied technologies, Radiocoms draws on their experience to meet a healthcare settings’ key objectives to deliver positive outcomes for quality of care and patient safety. This could mean updating devices to the latest software to bring on board new functionalities, adapting a current two way radio system to integrate with operation control room software for greater visibility across an estate or adding discrete body worn cameras to support nonclinical teams in a public accessible areas where situations can often escalate and pose a larger security threat to hospital staff and patients.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for change and with an already well established culture for continuous improvement, the NHS is driving forward with digital transformation to support agile working.

Collaborating across departments
At Motorola Solutions, Dan Faulkner is responsible for forming the WAVE PTX broadband push-to-talk service offering, recently launched throughout EMEA. He joins our panellist conversation as we begin discussing the benefits of bringing clinical and non-clinical staff together on one communication platform, noting that clinical and non-clinical staff work together all the time so allowing them to collaborate effectively will greatly enhance the smooth running of a department, building or entire facility and grounds. Those teams are already working every day to make sure their patients receive individualised quality care while operating in a non-stop and unpredictable environment. Dan says that, by providing a unified communication platform, the technology can build a foundation of safety that becomes the centre that holds healthcare operations together ensuring staff and caregivers are able to focus on their mission.

Julie picks up on the non-stop and unpredictable environment that Dan mentions. As she highlights, time matters in a healthcare setting and miscommunication can, unfortunately, lead to poorly informed decisions and actions, especially in time-sensitive situations. To combat this, smartphone solutions and secure mobile communications platforms can remove the need for a middleman to relay messages and address the mission and patient-critical communications requirements of one-to-one or cross-functional teams within a hospital and across a care trust.

Julie, an Account Manager at Radiocoms Systems Ltd, states that any successful implementation begins with a planning process and gathering feedback from clinical and non-clinical teams about their needs and pain points. Their combined experience and perspectives can help a project manager piece together a formula for success when putting together a plan to understand how to best map current workflows to communications solutions and create the required level of collaboration.

Axe the Fax
Speaking at the GovTech Summit in Paris in November 2018, shortly after becoming Health Secretary, Matt Hancock set his sights on tackling the world’s largest collection of fax machines, responding to a panel question on how the leading figures on stage would measure successful of innovation in their respective organisations by saying: “When I am no longer the world’s largest owner of fax machines.”

His quip was in part a retort to the findings of the Royal College of Surgeons, who earlier that year revealed that nearly 9,000 fax machines were in use across the NHS in England, the largest anywhere in the world. In December of 2018 the Health Secretary announced a ban on the NHS from buying fax machines and ordered a complete phase-out by April 2020 - an achievement that has not yet been reached. In fact, research from last year found that the trusts with the most fax machines in the NHS had collectively axed just 42 per cent of those machines in the past 12 months.

Which raises the question, how can trusts ensure that any digital improvements do not negatively affect major infrastructural changes? Dan Faulkner says that, as with any new technology, the operational requirement should be defined first, then solutions selected to meet those needs. In this case, the functionality provided by faxes and pagers can be delivered with alternatives.

For example, the two-way radios, produced by Motorola Solutions, can be used to send text messages similar to a pager with the added advantage of being able to use them for voice calls. Alternatively, the company’s WAVE PTX broadband communication system again allows texting similar to pagers, but also allows multimedia messages such as pictures to be sent along with the text providing an enhancement over the pager use case. WAVE provides a cloud-based unified communication tool offer quick, efficient and encrypted voice and data messaging functionalities to allow multi-way dialogue between clinical and non-clinical teams. By working across different mobile devices and/or web based interfaces Radiocoms can support anytime, anywhere communications requirements.

Dan says that working with a skilled local supplier like Radiocoms, who themselves have the backing of a major manufacturer like Motorola Solutions, gives healthcare workers and trusts access to the expertise needed to collaborate on finding the best solutions for their specific operational requirements.

Julie Lewis is in agreements and says that pagers, despite having been the primary communication device in healthcare for an incredibly long time, cannot transfer the urgency of a situation and may cause underestimation of a situation. An appropriate replacement device for establishing clinical communication should transfer information where there is voice or data, accurately and swiftly.

Smartphones, handheld devices such as two way radios and software applications are now being considered as suitable alternatives to replace pagers throughout 2021. But, at a local level there needs to be proper consideration as to how new systems will impact on workflow and interact with existing systems.

Lastly, healthcare systems with complex geographies and challenging construction can often experience poor Wi-Fi connectivity, they cannot afford to miss or receive intermittent messages or calls. For sites that do have problematic cellular coverage, Radiocoms recommends distributed antenna systems (DAS) and smart booster technologies that have been widely adopted to deliver a mobile signal.

The Panellists

Julie Lewis,
Account Manager, Radiocoms Systems Ltd

Julie Lewis was appointed her position as Business Account Manager at Radiocoms Systems Ltd in 2018. Within her current role, she oversees the development and implementation of large infrastructure voice, video & data radio solutions for a variety of verticals in the private and public sector. Fostering strong working relationships with stakeholders, clients and partners her knowledge, experience and passionate resonates by being able to provide focused solutions to resolve their critical communication challenges and supporting their digital transformation journey. Julie has over ten years’ experience within the field of unified communications, digital transformation, and account management.

Julie Lewis

John Charlton,
Channel Account Manager UK&I, Motorola Solutions

Working for Motorola Solutions for just over four years and being within the industry for over 19 years, John has a keen interest in Professional Commercial Radio, DMR Systems, MSI Sold and Supported Control Room Solutions, Push to Talk Over Broadband Fixed and Body Worn Video.

Taking my knowledge of all these areas and I look to introduce a powerful integrated solution which helps improve safety and makes us better at everything we do, focusing on but not limited to Safer Hospitals, Stadiums, Universities and Airports.

John Charlton

Dan Faulkner,
WAVE PTX EMEA Sales, Motorola Solutions

This year Dan is celebrating having worked in the communications industry for over 20 years. He spent 12 years in both technical and sales roles at a radio reseller before joining Motorola Solutions as a Channel Account Manager. He has since spent 9 years in various roles at Motorola Solutions, including driving business development of DMR markets throughout Northern Europe. More recently, he has been working on the Software Enterprise side of the business, where he has been responsible for forming the WAVE PTX broadband push-to-talk service offering recently launched throughout EMEA.

Dan’s knowledge across the communications industry, combined with his extensive experience from both manufacturer and reseller perspectives, mean he is well placed to talk about the challenges our customers face in this fast paced market.

Dan Faulkner