Smarter Health – Two clever docs with their heads in the cloud

Despite the hustle and bustle in healthcare, many healthcare professionals don’t get to meet their peers as often as they might like. They move in an endless round of clinics, surgeries, theatres, departments, wards, professional committees etc.; and don’t get a chance to have a cup of coffee, let alone share best practice. But a new enterprise social networking platform exclusive to the healthcare community means they can now connect with colleagues 24/7 using the same techniques as popular social networking sites. We find out from its co-founders, Dr Jonathon Shaw and Dr Jonathan Bloor, how is enabling frontline staff to collaborate more effectively.

Communication breakdown 
Communication between staff can be frustrating at the best of times in any organisation, says Dr Jonathon Shaw. “But in a typical hospital environment, frontline workers generally don’t have the luxury of their own desk, filing tray, PC or phone. The minute they’re no longer in the same room as their colleagues, communication and collaboration can easily break down.”

Shaw says healthcare invariably involves large organisations with a highly mobile workforce. “Since they work shifts and switch hospitals and specialties as often as every six months, those on the frontline of patient care have never been more remote from their employers. Indeed, our own research shows that nine out of ten acute trusts are struggling to keep in touch with staff.”

“With such a dynamic group of people, it can be incredibly difficult to manage email distribution lists, for example; getting a simple communication out to frontline workers can be a lottery that takes forever. To make matters worse, NHS legacy systems, like intranets and email, tend to be flaky; it makes life difficult for a consultant, say, who simply wants to arrange a meeting of all the doctors working under him.”

Similarly, at home, Dr Jonathan Bloor says frontline healthcare professionals generally have no easy way to access work data, emails and other communications. “Most have no permanent place to store information related to their work or any way to alert the relevant people when their contact details or skills profiles change. The result is a communication breakdown that threatens patient care.

“We’ve both experienced first-hand the frustrations, dangers and waste resulting from ineffective and archaic communication systems typically found within the NHS,” he says. “It all adds up to a problem that’s potentially costing lives, as well as time and money.”

A virtual in-tray and networking platform
In their determination to overcome these communication barriers within healthcare, the two doctors have developed, a social networking site specific to health workers. With this focus, it naturally features enterprise-grade security and access which is restricted to healthcare professionals. They make no secret of the fact that their brainchild is modelled on proven social networking techniques that free individuals from corporate legacy systems. 

“Online tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have opened up a whole host of communications channels that allow people to share information, socialise and keep in touch with one another wherever they happen to be,” says Bloor. “In this way, social media has revolutionised the way people work and communicate; it’s become a must-have engagement channel for everyone - from school kids to retail giants.

“By harnessing similar technology in a secure and professional context, enables networking within and between NHS trusts, training organisations, special interest groups and other relevant bodies; we’ve simply created the site as a means of allowing healthcare pros to engage with their peers.

“Designed by doctors and clinicians who understand the idiosyncracies of the NHS in particular, the site acts as a virtual in-tray and networking platform through which healthcare professionals can find, share and collaborate with their colleagues and employers.”

Bloor says the system is easy to use and integrates fully with the NHS’s existing IT infrastructure to provide users with a central access point. “Whether it’s the latest patient safety announcements, policy and procedures updates, training information or work rotas, will ensure the right information gets to the right people in the right way at the right time,” he says.

Viral future ahead
Social networks typically face one interesting technology challenge, though. If they don’t attract an audience, well, they just atrophy and wither away. But when they achieve critical mass – as luminaries like Facebook or Twitter have – their need for raw technology power explodes. Shaw is confident that is well prepared for a viral future. “Having chosen Microsoft's Windows Azure, one of the world's most sophisticated and secure cloud computing platforms, as our underlying technology, we can comfortably cope with surges in demand as more and more healthcare professionals register for free on the site.

“By reducing the need for significant capital expenditure on infrastructure and hardware engineers, we will also be able to focus on developing our applications, leaving Microsoft to manage and scale our infrastructure, and paying them only for the capacity we use.

"What we particularly like about Azure is that it removes any uncertainty about our growth and gives us complete elastic scalability, which means our brilliant team of software engineers can focus on what they do best. Since it is based on Microsoft’s leading-edge intelligent technology, it’s also reassuring to know that is running on the world’s most advanced cloud platform from a security perspective.”

And around the corner… subscribers are also about to get another benefit  - their own dedicated area in Microsoft’s Health pages. We will bring you further news of this - and how to register for free on - in our blog soon.

Posted by Howard.

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