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A better-connected NHS: will apps change the way the NHS operates?

Steve Brain explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the NHS to re-evaluate the way it operates and how technology can support this

It’s no secret that the current pandemic has put a large amount of strain on the NHS’ resources, involving reorganising hospital facilities and redeploying existing staff, against a backdrop of existing shortages. Amongst many other vital organisational changes, it has forced trusts across the country to question how they distribute information and handle employee communication. Trusts are coming up with innovative solutions to ensure employees are kept up to date with the latest government information and COVID -19 guidelines, as the rules around their safety constantly evolve.

Apps could be the answer. As we know, they are already being used across the healthcare sector, for example through the contact tracing app and to consolidate communications between patients and medical professionals. Trusts across South West England are using video consultations for those patients who may struggle to describe their symptoms via text or phone. 

The focus so far has been on apps that provide better information to citizens, but NHS organisations also need to find innovative solutions that improve operations for employees. Trusts – like Southern Health and Social Care – are doing just this.

Facilitating information sharing
We’ve worked with Southern to develop the Connect app, designed to support information sharing across all employees by providing a central hub for information. This is particularly relevant for sharing vital information around COVID-19 and the provisions employees need to stay safe. For example, Connect is being used to notify employees about a PPE delivery, provide the latest guidance on screening and offers chatbot functionality.

Communication apps, like Connect, provide Trust leaders and HR teams with a platform to share resources such as the latest news, podcasts and essential reading. This could include changes to child protection services during the pandemic and guides on how medical staff can ensure they are looking after their own mental health and wellbeing – all aimed towards keeping employees up-to-speed and engaged.

Apps can also enable joined-up communications with part-time, contract and community staff who may not otherwise have access to corporate systems. This is especially important for those out in the field who would not have access to the Trust’s systems while on the go but need to be aware of the latest advice to ensure they are adhering to the correct policies and procedures.

NHS HR leaders can also use apps as a platform to support training and development for employees. Apps can provide staff with hands-on training and specialist clinical-based content virtually, ensuring knowledge is kept up to date without compromising physical wellbeing. 

Ensuring employees feel valued
Keeping employees engaged and well-informed is fundamental to any workplace, but this is especially important across the NHS in the current climate. It’s both vital for employees to have access to the latest information to ensure their safety and also so they feel valued and have the necessary resources for continuous learning and professional development. There’s no doubt that effective communication and digital innovation is the key to achieving this.