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CIO interview: Mike Ives, IT director, University Hospital Southampton

Caroline Baldwin

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS)  has upgraded its wireless infrastructure so staff can become more efficient by having a greater choice of mobile devices to use across the hospital.

The trust had a wireless infrastructure in place for six to seven years, but a year ago it decided to upgrade its existing Aruba system.

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With the onset of using more clinical applications on mobile and laptops, UHS realised it needed wireless access at the bedside of patients. While it’s previous Aruba offering had not given the hospital any problems, it had not been used for clinical actions. With the upgrade to Aruba 7220 mobility controllers, the hospital was able to deploy a wide range of laptops to clinical staff.

In April 2013 UHS decided to work with the systems integrator, Networks First, to deploy the Aruba upgrade to cater for the increased usage of laptops, mobile devices and applications. The network now features 1,024 access points to extend coverage to new areas of the hospital.

As well as improvements for staff, the network is now available for visitor access. Previously, it wasn’t easy for visitors to register and use the hospital Wi-Fi, but in 2014 visitors will be able to seamlessly access the network across the hospital. “It’s a segregated network,” says Mike Ives, IT director, University Hospital Southampton. “So clinical apps get priority.”

Bring your own device

With the implementation of a robust wireless infrastructure to support a range of hospital devices, the concept of BYOD was surely to cross employee’s minds. But Ives says people can get carried away with the possibilities of BYOD and wireless networks. He says the business benefit isn’t about enabling mobile devices, but the application that can be delivered on the mobile devices.

He says clinical applications have restricted wireless and mobility in hospitals because the apps need to be upgraded to be used effectively on mobile devices. “They’re only now becoming more generally available.”

“We’re looking to implement BYOD in the New Year,” he says, noting that the move is relatively slow.

He says one of the big challenges is the support for multiple devices. “We’ve got thousands of devices PCs and laptops and while we want to give people the option to have their own device, there’s a support overhead to bear in mind and also security.”

Ives sees the future of mobility within the hospital becoming a mixture of BYOD and hospital-provided devices to run clinical applications.

“If they can get benefit from running an app on a tablet even if it doesn’t run that well, if it makes their job easier and saves them time, they will make it work,” he says. “But it would have to run with our security software and restrictions on bandwidth utilisation,” he says. “But it’s not going to be a free for all from day one – we’re going to have to manage that.”

We run Microsoft across the organisation, but we'll have to wait and see if that is the case in future

Mike Ives, NHS

As an IT director, Ives knows when you force technology on people, that’s when it doesn’t work so well. “That’s the thought behind BYOD, it’s their own device, always on them. OK it might not run everything as well as Windows laptop might, but it’s sufficient for their purposes.”

Clinical applications

He says embracing BYOD means users need to be informed what they can and can’t do. “Just because they have a tablet and they can put it on the network, doesn’t mean they can run all the applications.”

One of the applications that can’t run on a tablet, but only a standard PC is e-prescribing. Ives says the functionalities of tablets just don’t support the extra controls around the software.

“You can run any application on a tablet, but they’re not written for that environment. Tablet applications need big buttons that are easy easy to use.” He says shoe-horning applications on to tablets don’t work very well or don’t work at all.

Ives says he needs application vendors to bring out tablet versions for mobility around the hospital to seriously progress.

But he says developing tablet applications is a huge task. “Writing an app for a tablet is no easier than writing for PC. There are companies investing significantly in writing tablet versions of apps, but it’s not trivial, and I can understand why a profitable company doing well with traditional systems, might not want to invest money to write a tablet version.”

He says another challenge is that the market is constantly changing and so do the operating systems.

“Windows is fairly standard, but I can understand why they haven’t invested time and effort [into other operating systems], but inevitably they will have to.”

The hospital is in the middle of migrating to Windows 7 at the moment. “We run Microsoft across the organisation, whether that will be the case in the future, we’ll have to wait and see, but we will always require some Microsoft services."

Ives says in the future there will be a movement away from a standard laptop to a mixed economy. “You’ll end up with some people with an Apple or Android tablet – they will have differently things depending on what they do.

Paperless

With the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, declaring the NHS should be paperless by 2018, the onset of mobile devices may help this priority for Trusts across the country become a reality.

But Ives says it is probably more accurate to call the motion “paperlight” than paperless.

“It’s going to be one to two years before the applications are available to be able to run in a paperlight way,” he says.

Ives says it’s inevitable that people will want to use mobile devices, and UHS needs to have the infrastructure to support this in a secure way.

“Otherwise people will end up carrying a laptop and a tablet, and a smartphone probably – there will be proliferations of devices in the short term,” he predicts. “The number of devices will go through the roof, and won’t see the benefits until people can just use one device.


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