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Mobile working booms in healthcare, but misconceptions remain

Number of healthcare organisations with mobile working projects more than doubles to 77% in little more than 12 months

Over three quarters (77%) of healthcare organisations now have live mobile working projects in place, up from just 30% a little over 12 months ago, according to a report produced by specialist software house NDL. However despite this rapid growth, suggesting the business case for mobile technology is largely proven, there are strong indications that project managers are still struggling to pinpoint the factors responsible for success or failure, suggesting growth could accelerate even faster in the future.

The report is compiled from in depth interviews with senior IT professionals at 160 English Acute, Community and Mental Trusts and Welsh and Scottish Healthcare Trusts.  The report focuses on Line of Business mobile working, which allows healthcare professionals to carry out a transaction in situ to meet a patient or organisational need, rather than technology that simply enables individuals to access emails or calendars when they are out the office.

NDL’s study identified 161 active projects among the 160 Trusts surveyed, with just over a quarter (27%) of respondents having multiple projects in place. In line with previous studies, community nursing remained the most popular area for mobile working projects, followed by case management and assessments. In addition to having the most live projects, these areas also had the most projects in planning and pilot phase suggesting growth will continue in the future.

Despite the increasing prevalence of mobile working, and with it a growing body of knowledge about successful project implementation, there is evidence of a lingering perception gap between the anticipated and actual challenges of setting up a mobile working project. The report asked the 29% of respondents who had experienced an unsuccessful mobile working project to attribute the main reasons for failure, as well as asking all respondents about the perceived barriers to setting up mobile working projects, with some interesting results:

  • Only 11% of failed projects cite security as a  significant reason but 47%  of respondents perceived security concerns to be a major barrier to mobile working
  • 51% of failed projects identified incorrect device selection  as a significant reason but only 29% of respondents see choosing the right device as critical at the start of a project
  • 60% of failed projects pinpointed an inadequate data network as a reason, but  only 41% of respondents see it as a barrier at a project’s outset
  • 47% of failed projects blamed resistance to cultural change as a reason but 59% see it as a barrier to mobile working

NDL’s managing director, Declan Grogan, commented: “These results show there are key areas that project managers are underestimating the importance of. In the worst case, these oversights can lead to outright failure of mobile working projects, but in many others it can make the early days of a mobile working project more difficult than they need to be. By highlighting them in this report we can bring renewed focus to these areas, while also demonstrating that issues such as security should not be viewed as an insurmountable barrier, as long as sensible measures are implemented.

“The quality of the data network has been an ongoing issue for many Trusts and there is little indication that the situation will change significantly in the immediate future – in 2014 only 14% of respondents describe the network as ‘always on and high speed’ up just 6% from late 2012. Although of course we would hope for improvement in the medium term, it is essential that Trusts recognise the reality of the network now and plan accordingly. For example, choosing technology that allows healthcare professionals to input data when a device is offline and synchronise later, is a simple and practical solution.

“Another interesting finding was the relationship between cultural change and device selection, which many respondents appear to see as separate issues. Cultural change is rightly identified as both a barrier to mobile working and a reason for failure, but by contrast device selection itself is seen as relatively unimportant at the start of a project.

“Our experience shows that correct device selection is part and parcel of ensuring a workforce is onside with a project, and is therefore integral to overcoming cultural resistance. Devices that are heavy or cumbersome are just as likely to meet resistance as devices with screens which are too small to display complex data.  Ensuring that the mobile application is appropriate to the task which must be completed, rather than simply a copy of the entire back of office system, as well as involving end users at the early stages of an application’s development are two excellent ways of ensuring the right device and application combination is chosen for project roll out.

“With the business case for mobile working showing such huge return on investment, the growth of mobile working and the efficiency of implementation will increasingly be determined by accurately identifying and then mitigating the challenges mobile working projects typically face. Taking a realistic view of the data network and recognising the importance of the application and device selection will help ease the role out of mobile working.”