Underpinning the success of ambitions outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan will be creating a process through which the health service can connect with patients in more-meaningful ways.
But, with 64% of IT leaders in healthcare experiencing security threats in the last two years, and 20% of NHS staff admitting to sending sensitive information via email that they probably shouldn’t have, how can healthcare organisations ensure the vehicles they use to communicate with patients are viable and secure?
According to Adam Low, chief technology officer at Zivver, digital health leaders run the risk of greater fragmentation, inaccessibility, and pressure on services already operating at their capacity if they get this important process wrong.
If changing the format and frequency in which we interact with our patients, and each other, is such a necessity, but the vehicles to do so are not viable or secure enough, what then are we supposed to do?
“Shifting to conversations in digital spaces is a huge endeavour, especially across sprawling boundaries that go beyond the traditional healthcare domains,” he said.
“This is a big strategic quandary, and one that begs the question: if changing the format and frequency in which we interact with our patients, and each other, is such a necessity, but the vehicles to do so are not viable or secure enough, what then are we supposed to do?”
Time to Talk
Across most Integrated Care Systems (ICS) there are a myriad of channels, applications, and technologies.
In fact, 51% of healthcare staff Zivver has surveyed said the comms channels they use have increased in the last two years.
“It is true that healthcare workers need access to the right systems to be as productive as possible,” said Low.
“For example, undertaking time-consuming logistical work such as sending appointment reminders and referrals by the post takes time and energy away from core tasks, and it costs more money.
“Not to mention the security issues that can arise, such as sending out the wrong sensitive information, which has a knock-on effect of slowing down vital care.”
With healthcare professionals wanting to be free to focus on their core role – patient care – the reality for workers is less positive.
Healthcare workers can feel overwhelmed by choice, unsure of the best method to use, and are therefore more likely to make errors
According to Zivver’s report, from increasing stress levels (31%), to reducing their ability to focus and do their best work as they are interrupted more frequently (31%), this sharp increase in digital communications has thrown up more challenges than it solves.
“Healthcare workers can feel overwhelmed by choice, unsure of the best method to use, and are therefore more likely to make errors,” said Low.
“Plus, with patient care taking up most of their time and energy, they just don’t have the space to learn how to use new tech.
“Ultimately, it is vital that healthcare workers have access to the right communications systems to be as productive as possible.”
Rethinking digital strategies
Email is key to improving patient communication across the NHS.
With the ability to facilitate quick and efficient communication, it has revolutionised the way healthcare providers co-ordinate, monitor, and deliver patient care.
Email also plays a crucial role in providing timely updates and alerts to healthcare professionals.
“Hospitals deal with critical situations where real-time information is vital,” explains Low.
“By utilising email, medical staff can receive automated alerts about changes in a patient’s condition, test results, or medication updates.
“This ensures that healthcare providers are promptly informed, enabling them to take immediate action and provide timely interventions.
“Consequently, patient care becomes more pro-active and responsive, leading to improved outcomes and patient safety.”
But being progressive means moving towards a stronger and better solution for all, which is why it is also important to assess the situation at face value.
Low said: “This means addressing key communication and security issues.
“Despite the in-built benefits of email, there are concerns regarding safety and security, given the sensitive information held within hospitals and other healthcare services.
Arguably, IT leaders are in a prime position to put the right processes and support in place – so they must consider what tools they can access to make that happen
“According to our research, 64% of IT leaders in healthcare have experienced security threats in the last two years and out of the threats faced, they’re most concerned about phishing (53%), cloud computing vulnerabilities (51%), and ransomware (49%).
“And this has been proven to be a legitimate concern. For example, Barts Health NHS Trust was recently subjected to a ransomware attack, with more than 7TB of data obtained by a gang known as BlackCat.”
However, data breaches can happen for more-benign reasons where mistakes are made unintentionally.
In the last two years, 30% of respondents to the Zivver research have sent the wrong attachment in error, 27% have hit reply all by mistake, and 20% have sent sensitive information via email that they probably shouldn’t have.
Concerningly, only 23% say they worry about data security and that they might send something they shouldn’t. This leaves 77% apparently unaware of the risks.
On the other hand, it’s clear that IT leaders are very much aware of the risks.
Equally, they know that security measures can hamper staff productivity.
But do they know what to do about it?
Low advises: “One strategy is to think as much about outbound security failures as external threats.
“Arguably, IT leaders are in a prime position to put the right processes and support in place – so they must consider what tools they can access to make that happen.”
Prioritising patient care
Armed with the right tech solution, IT leaders can help staff send sensitive information securely over email.
“Rather than burdening staff with more security protocols and unnecessary comms channels, smart technology solutions layered on top of email serve as a simple-yet-highly-effective way to overcome security barriers and support healthcare workers in delivering the best patient care.
“And the best thing is all healthcare providers across an ICS are already using email.
Rather than burdening staff with more security protocols and unnecessary comms channels, smart technology solutions layered on top of email serve as a simple-yet-highly-effective way to overcome security barriers and support healthcare workers in delivering the best patient care
“By implementing a solution to enhance email, no extra training is required. Instead, it’s all systems go.”
While the NHS is working towards greater communications functionality through the NHS App, this will take time.
“It’s important for ICSs to recognise there is a way right now to provide secure and efficient communications, and email is a trusted and proven tool,” said Low.
“Armed with the right security layer, the NHS and patients can share sensitive information with confidence, in an effortless and user-friendly way.
“This switches the responsibility away from people, and instead onto the supporting tech.
“It also has the added benefit of keeping IT leaders assured. Not only by ensuring staff stay compliant, but also by eliminating the extra hassle around having to maintain and manage complex software.
“But, most of all, it allows healthcare staff to focus on their core role, and to keep patient care at the centre of everything they do.”