General practice is becoming ever more tech-enabled – but this comes at a cost. Senior technology analyst Peter Tsai discusses the findings of recent research conducted by Spiceworks and considers the place of technology in general practice and the importance of wise investment
It’s no overstatement to say that technology can be a driving force in the future of healthcare. With surgeries conducted by robotics already common, the NHS allocating £300m for robotics in UK hospitals and GP at Hand helping NHS patients get medical advice via an app, tech is transforming how the public accesses and receives healthcare.
However despite these advances, not all is well with the tech used by hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities. For example, recent IFS studies show that it costs Britain more to run the NHS than ever before – in excess of £140bn last year. With skyrocketing costs, coupled with small budget increases, public healthcare organisations are increasingly under pressure to do more with less — and it shows. Recent international research conducted by Spiceworks on the lifespan of tech in the workplace found that healthcare lags behind other sectors when it comes to tech-replenishment.
Backline tech essential for frontline care
They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Even if you’ve got top-of-the-line devices, if they’re connecting to a flaky server, that’s going to seriously affect overall performance. Not only that, there are major security and reliability implications of running older, potentially out-of-support and out-of-warranty hardware.
Despite very high-profile cybersecurity incidents in the NHS in 2017, our study found that the healthcare sector keeps servers around the longest compared to any other industry, with almost half (45%) of organisations using servers for more than seven years, compared to the 32% average across industries.
And in an industry where maintaining IT services might actually be a matter of life or death, constant uptime could be essential. By pushing servers past their expiration dates — presumably due to lack of budgets — organisations are walking a tightrope and could put quality of care, or even the safety or security of patients, at risk.
Breakdown and budget devices
The older devices get, the more prone their components are to fail. Perhaps it’s no surprise that, at 85%, the vast majority of healthcare institutions in our survey saw device failure as the main prompt for replacing hardware; performance and physical damage were not far behind. At only 21%, far fewer organisations tend to replace hardware on a regular schedule.
On the subject of purchasing higher-end tech, or opting for the budget-friendly option, healthcare organisations went for the cheaper option across almost all devices – from laptops and desktops to tablets and printers. This preference makes it clear that keeping a focus on budgets is a priority for the healthcare sector.
The healthcare industry, fundamentally, understands the benefits that technology can bring, not only for patient care, but also for efficiency and quality of service. However, at a time when the costs of providing healthcare are peaking, budgets must go further than ever before.
It can be tempting for decision-makers to go for the cheaper option when purchasing tech; however, saving money up front might end up costing organisations more in the long run.
Across our survey we found an emerging generational divide, with younger IT professionals believing it’s not only better, but more cost-effective, to invest in higher-end devices over the budget-friendly options. Additionally, they are generally less confident in the longevity of their devices than their older colleagues and, therefore, less likely to run them past their natural lifespan. As these younger IT pros – who understand the value of reliable computer infrastructure – gradually move up the ranks, the state of tech in healthcare should improve…but change needs to happen sooner than that.
The quality of care patients receive is directly linked to the quality of the technology used in GP surgeries, hospitals and clinics. Providing the best care to as many patients as possible, all within budget, might be challenging but technology shouldn’t come second when making financial decisions.