The digitisation of healthcare has had a major impact on IT and telecommunications requirements. In recent years there has been a huge effort within NHS trusts to move to 100% electronic patient records which are more easily accessible.
The demand for mobile connectivity services and devices has been increasing consistently since the start of COVID. During the pandemic, there was a need for healthcare professionals in the field to be able to work remotely rather than return to a GP practice or hospital at the end of each shift to update records. However, that simple change has now led to those mobile devices being used for so much more than simple data entry. Now that single device and SIM card will be likely used for video calling, collaboration, lone worker safety and access to the latest reference material and procedures.
Given that this mobile access is now so mission critical and in some cases life critical then it is no surprise that we seeing more and more demand for data and voice SIMs that can roam un-steered on all the UK networks providing better coverage and resilience than any traditional SIM from one of the big four mobile operators.
When you’re dealing with an individual’s health information, cybersecurity is a top priority. With internet-based health applications, this is usually addressed with application layer encryption. However, where the application isn’t hosted on the Internet but is hosted within an NHS Trust's data centre or cloud then it is very common for a private APN to be required. A private APN works using standard SIMs and devices but instead of providing access to the Internet, it provides secure access between the SIM and the application without requiring the traffic to traverse the Internet at all. Private APNs used to be the sole preserve of the mobile operators, but now our resellers can set these up in a matter of days and choose from a variety of different tariffs that provide support for single or multiple mobile networks.
Three years ago we were involved in a project to connect over 30,000 ambulances to the Internet to be able to access electronic patient records which has been a tremendous success. However, now the requirements have moved on significantly from just being patient records. The mobile connectivity we supply is now being used to replace the traditional 2-way radio voice communication using either cellular voice or PTT over IP technology. The largest increase in data usage is coming from video calling which is being used to connect patients, control centres and paramedics to improve the speed and quality of clinical decision making.
A more recent initiative is the concept of ‘virtual wards’. Jola is involved in several different projects of this type throughout the UK with several different partners. A virtual ward is a term used to describe how digital technology can be used by a hospital to communicate with and monitor the health of hundreds or thousands of patients. Typically the patient will have a device such as an iPad with a SIM card in it that is linked to wearable sensors that monitor things such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and environmental conditions. The data is then combined with virtual or in-person outpatient visits that can give the patient more choices about their care and free up valuable hospital beds.