The NHS needs to make £22bn efficiency savings by 2020 and, in order to meet this target, the
spotlight has been turned onto the mobile industry.
Technology is the key enabler to releasing the efficiency challenge facing the health service, according to the former CEO of NHS England. This sentiment is starting to be reflected in the mobile industry as companies look to healthcare for new revenue streams. From mobile operators to unified comms dealers, the opportunities in mobile health, or mHealth, are slowly starting to be realised.
Moving into mHealth
Mobile companies can streamline frontline medical services as the government looks to boost the use of technology within the health sector. Natalie Bateman, head of health, social care and local government at techuk, believes that this is where mobile companies can find opportunity.
‘Mobile health (mHealth) holds a unique position within the industry and it covers technology such as wearables, apps, telehealth, telecoaching and telecare,’ she says. ‘There’s a variety of different tech that falls within that but it all drives towards offering personalised care. It’s a really positive sign that mobile companies are moving into that market and it’s a real advantage for that market segment.
‘There’s a huge opportunity for mobile companies in health and in particular mHealth. This is being set from clear policy direction from government to maximise the use of technology in digital health to address the financial constraints that the NHS is faced with, but also to improve the way that it is delivered across the board. The focus is on how to meet the £22bn efficiency challenge, and so mHealth means it is working towards that challenge because it’s taking out immediate costs.
‘Mobile companies are starting to show interest in health ultimately because it can help them deliver on efficiency savings from the census. There is a huge financial pressure on the NHS to meet £22bn efficiency savings between now and 2020. There are huge incentives and policy directions for a change in the way that models of care are delivered around integration and giving patients and carers more responsibility, and mHealth sits in the sweet spot of that.’
Public sector credibility
Government research found that the NHS spends £1bn on establishment costs, which include telecoms. The report found that central government saved £126m by using framework agreements for telecoms services, which could be replicated across the NHS.
Annodata is one mobile company that is using these framework agreements to enter healthcare as a new revenue stream. The unified comms dealer’s push into this market is part of a wider focus in the public health sector.
Framework agreements can be used as part of a procurement process to enable telecoms companies, such as Annodata, to win contracts within healthcare. The unified comms dealer believes that expanding its portfolio into the health market allows it to broaden its reach, but Stuart McAlpine, head of communications, claims that public sector is not for everyone.
He says: ‘We absolutely are looking at health and public sector. We have the appropriate frameworks so public sector can procure and we have a team of people working to expand the product offerings in healthcare. I’m not sure if it will be everyone’s cup of tea – there’ll be certain dealers that view the market in a medium- to long-term strategy, and the public sector is traditionally a longer sale cycle with smaller margin percentages, and that won’t be right for everyone.’
Azzurri Communications believes that healthcare is the right arena for it, using it to build credibility within the public sector arena. Richard Newport, head of public sector at the unified comms dealer, explains that health is a big part of its sales strategy.
Newport says: ‘We’re working with University College London Hospitals, and we’ve just announced an extension of their internal mobile service, which gives reliance against mobile networks being shut down – that was something very specialised.
‘Public sector incorporates new businesses and account management but we’re starting a further sub vertical focus into health so it’s a significant part of our sales strategy. In mobile the biggest shift is towards data usage and we’re very keen to seek competitive pricing, but the big shift is in the greater use of mobile and the deployment of device management, and that’s as important with health.’
Jumping on the bandwagon
Vodafone has a made a significant push into the healthcare space, equipping frontline staff with mobility tools by working with Total Mobile. The company originally started off delivering mobile solutions, but quickly saw the benefits of moving into healthcare. Simon McIntyre, director of marketing at Total Mobile, explains that as the NHS ‘jumps on the mobile bandwagon’, the market needs to move with it.
He says: ‘The headline benefit is that mobile has been proven to save two hours per nurse per day and that is through removal of paperwork – it removes the need for nurses to go back to their office. We started with mobile solutions and our primary market was local government. We moved into health in 2012 and it was because we knew the benefits of mobile.
‘We knew it would help people increase productivity, and with the various challenges the NHS has been having, that was a real driver. The benefits of mobile working matched up with the challenges the NHS face.
‘All work is going mobile, the way people work is changing, and the whole market and the NHS is shifting towards using the benefits of mobile working. There are other people getting on the mobile bandwagon but what is key to success is adopting solutions around mobile that are built for the user.
‘Everybody is making use of mobile in their everyday lives and it’s now about bringing that into workforce and embracing the power of mobile. It’s not just the device, it’s a solution that’s on the device, and the wrong solution on the wrong device won’t provide the same benefits.
According to Bateman, suppliers and providers need to take a lead in encouraging integration within the NHS. The current system is difficult to integrate with mobile technology, which she claims is holding back the NHS.
‘You’ve got healthcare delivered through the NHS and then social care delivered through local government, and within those two areas you have different care settings.
‘Ultimately, the interoperability standards in place need to be reformed and adopted but there also needs to be better integration between systems, and to enable this you have a free flow of patient data. Once you’ve got that it’s much easier to embed technology into the system, and suppliers and providers need to encourage this kind of integration.’
Selling into this market can also be tough for mobile companies that have to sell individually to Clinical Commissioning Groups. These groups are responsible for planning local health services across the UK but, as Bateman explained, each group makes its own decisions.
She says: ‘Even though you have government direction to address barriers there are also issues from mobile health members on a local level. There is no one customer, each clinical commissioning group makes its own decisions. For suppliers looking to sell into the market it’s quite different because there are multiple customers making different decisions and so they have to go to them individually.’
Obtaining public sector contracts in health can also be a tricky process. Mobile companies need to pass accreditation standards in order to qualify for these public sector contracts. Qualifying for this certification can be difficult when it comes to the niche healthcare market, where there are several additional factors to consider outside telecoms services.
Vodafone claims that adopting a unified approach to telecoms will bring about the ‘pivotal change’ that is needed from the NHS to meet its savings targets. More and more mobile companies are realising the important role they could play in this change, and integrating the two industries may be a step in the right direction to solving the NHS’ efficiency challenge.