Old and outdated tech could be exacerbating the health service’s staffing crisis, writes Mark Burton from Virgin Media O2 Business

Digital transformation is reducing the strain on hospital beds but despite some impressive advances, problems with inefficient technology persist. According to our Tech untapped report, 77% of the healthcare sector is still limited by old and outdated tech.

This isn’t just a significant operational issue. When healthcare professionals are frustrated with the continued use of legacy technology, it increases the risk that the healthcare sector will lose them.

There is a ‘battle for talent’ and it is being felt particularly strongly in the public sector. Continued industrial action and the ongoing backlog from the pandemic mean healthcare organisations cannot afford to lose more staff. It’s time to address the issue of old or ‘legacy tech’ head on.

Legacy tech presents several challenges in the healthcare sector, from clunky hardware and outdated software that doesn’t allow for remote working capabilities, to insecure data storage that leaves patient data exposed to cybercriminals. Updating legacy tech means updating healthcare’s approach to elements such as cybersecurity, communication, and data collection. It means getting as close to ‘future proofing’ as possible.

As one of our customers, Graham Walsh, medical director at Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network, told us: “We have to be brave and leave the legacies behind and move on. Or the legacy systems need to be updated in a way that they can talk to the newer systems. We need to use the tools we already have to try and reduce the burden on staff and make their lives easier.”

Technology presents an opportunity to enable efficiencies and improve working life for healthcare staff.

Leave legacy tech behind

Worryingly, 47% of healthcare professionals feel frustrated by the quality or lack of business technology, according to our Battle for Talent research. Healthcare staff almost admit that outdated technology makes it more likely that they will resign from their jobs within the next six months.

Fortunately, technology can also play a powerful role in helping healthcare staff to stay engaged and happy in their jobs, by reducing administrative burdens and putting the right data in their hands when they need it.

Removing out-of-date technology and implementing intuitive digital tools can help the healthcare sector to retain valuable talent. Closing the digital gap can create better outcomes for both clinicians and patients.

Healthcare organisations should also be leveraging their partner networks to help them upgrade their legacy tech. Better digital solutions, specific to each ICS, can improve the workforce experience.

Go further with training

Improving workforce productivity must go beyond implementing better technology in the workplace. Upskilling employees is equally important. According to our research, a lack of training opportunities is a top reason for the current shortage of digital skills, with 40% of healthcare decision makers identifying a lack of training as a barrier to more effective use of technology.

If we’re to remove everyday inefficiencies, and unlock digital potential, we will need to provide staff with regular training. Prioritising workforce training also develops employees’ confidence and productivity.

The place to start is by asking employees about their digital challenges. Proactive conversations can provide insight into where training might be needed, or where a solution is working effectively without change. When it comes to operational planning for ICBs, workforce perspectives can also help identify where further efficiencies need to be unlocked.

Partners on a digital journey

The healthcare sector has, of course, faced significant challenges so far this year. Balancing rising expectations of staff and patients, against a difficult economic backdrop, has meant finding new and inventive ways to improve processes. But updated technology, upskilled employees and supportive suppliers offer a chance for the sector to unlock operational efficiencies.

Two thirds of health organisations still say they face pressure to demonstrate return-on-investment (ROI) faster than before. This is a task which they shouldn’t have to tackle alone. Digital partners should be directing technology investment to where NHS teams need it most, while also supplying the training to enable the workforce to achieve more with the technology they already have.

Mark BurtonMark Burton is health and social care lead at Virgin Media O2 Business.