Commercial organisations across the UK are moving their workforce to a hybrid working strategy – with many giving employees the option to choose whether they work at home, on company premises or a combination of both. But how useful could a hybrid working strategy be in the healthcare sector? Can it be practical? Are there similar benefits, and if so, how could a smooth transition to this way of working be enabled by technology?
Of course, there are roles in healthcare settings which cannot, and indeed should not, be carried out remotely – for reasons relating to practical care, or the emotional wellbeing of patients. So here we’ll look at some of the areas where a hybrid working strategy could be applied, and the potential resulting benefits this could have to the wider healthcare setting.
Identifying the impact: tackling key challenges through hybrid working
The safety of patients and staff will always be the number one priority for healthcare providers. This raises questions as to whether it is necessary, or safe, for non-clinical staff to operate within settings where infection could spread easily. Though an attitude triggered by the Covid pandemic, the spread of infectious diseases is a longer-term concern. Providing the option of remote or hybrid working for non-clinical staff could improve safety by reducing the numbers of people on site and therefore the likelihood of transmission, as well as benefitting the mental wellbeing of staff who may feel concerned about unnecessary risks in their working environment.
Staff shortages are one of the biggest challenges facing healthcare today. NHS hospitals, mental health services and community providers are now reporting a shortage of nearly 84,000 FTE staff. Could hybrid working be employed to maximise the capacity of existing employees, by streamlining tasks across multiple locations? For example, where non-clinical recruitment is lower in some regions, and higher in others, the ability to complete tasks from any location could create more flex in the workforce to adapt to staffing peaks and troughs. What’s more, with advancements in technology there are now opportunities for some clinical tasks to be operated remotely – such as nursing staff being able to monitor heart rates or insulin levels from a single device, saving time by removing the necessity to visit each patient in person.
Specialist or consultant appointments often mean long travel times either for the patient or the physician, but the possibility of carrying out some referrals through conferencing technology could significantly reduce this – leading to more availability for appointments and bringing down waiting lists. Digital file storage and sharing could also support remote working amongst clinical teams – with specialists able to quickly access patient information, test results or scans from their device, wherever they are.
One of the primary benefits cited by businesses who are turning to a hybrid working strategy is the reduction in the costs of overheads such as office premises and utilities. With budgets in healthcare often stretched, could reducing the number of non-clinical staff on site save much-needed funds? Or could healthcare leaders consider freeing up workspaces to provide additional treatment rooms?
Using technology to replicate (and improve) established ways of working
Whatever the sector, the key to a successful hybrid working strategy is to be able to replicate the experiences of the traditional working environment, so that employees feel fully connected and enabled to do their jobs. The recent technology boom means that there are now a range of apps, software and systems that can help organisations to smoothly transition existing processes to digital alternatives.
Video conferencing platforms play an important part in keeping teams connected and most come equipped with features that enable screen sharing, filesharing, communal whiteboards, presenter modes and more to replicate the experience of in person meetings. Conferencing tools mean that anyone can attend meetings from anywhere – whether onsite at a hospital, administrative staff working from home, or patient appointments. As such, they can also be a highly useful way of saving travel time, or overcoming difficulties in co-ordinating staff from different departments into one place.
Many manual processes in the healthcare sector are already being replaced with digital ones, with the government setting out an ambitious long-term plan for digital transformation over the next decade. The cloud will play a large part in the success of digitisation, as storage, filesharing and digital workspaces allow patient data and administrative records to be accessed from anywhere. For hybrid workers, being able to view, edit and annotate files all in one place provides a joined-up approach. Remote apps and desktops can help to retain a consistent and high quality user experience on any device. Where different departments utilise different systems – such as OneDrive or Sharepoint – digital workspaces featuring integrations to connect and sync between software can be of huge benefit.
The human touch, supported by technology
In-person contact will always be a vital part of healthcare, but using technology to enable hybrid or remote working in some areas could have a positive impact on overall healthcare provision. Digitising tasks, saving travel time, bringing widely-distributed clinicians together and reducing overheads can all help towards tackling the day-to-day challenges faced within healthcare settings.
Securing the digital workspace
Patient data is highly confidential so if a hybrid working strategy is to be considered it is important to ensure that effective security is in place. Protecting your network from external threats is crucial, but the complexities of healthcare data mean that there will also be different permission levels within the organisation as to which members of staff may access confidential information. It is important to choose a digital workspace which allows different permission levels to be set centrally – providing the right level of access for each user.
To learn more about securing your digital workspace, and how the integration of cybersecurity can support your transition to effective hybrid working, download our eBook – Secure by design: Incorporating cybersecurity into your digital transformation strategy.