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A Day Out With the Ambulance - 5 Things We Learned

Our Emergency Services team at Softcat believe that it’s extremely important to get as close as possible to our end users, in this case paramedic staff, ambulance crews, and the local communities that they serve.

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Laurie Meldon

Laurie Meldon

Integrated Care & Government Deputy Team Leader

A Day Out with The Ambulance – 5 Things We Learned (and how we can help)

In the UK, our ambulance trusts are under strain like never before. Rising demand, stretched resources, and increasing pressure to do more with less has made it ever more critical for trusts to work intelligently and efficiently, to maintain standards and improve outcomes for members of the public requiring emergency care across the country.

It is for these reasons that our Emergency Services team at Softcat believe that it’s extremely important to get as close as possible to our end users, in this case paramedic staff, ambulance crews, and the local communities that they serve. The better that we understand the day-to-day workflows of these users, the better we can design, deliver, and optimise our solutions and support, to help them carry out the vital work that they do every day.

Recently, I was lucky enough to do just that. I spent two days with one of the ambulance trusts I work with, spending time across a range of different functions of the organisation, to get a better understanding of the challenges that they face on the front line.

I began with a visit to the trust’s control room, observing 999 calls and interviewing call handlers and dispatchers. This was then followed by a visit to the trust’s fantastic new ‘smart station’ which displays a range of new ideas and initiatives to improve efficiency and workflow, spearheaded by the Innovation team at the trust. The following day consisted of a 12-hour observation shift in an ambulance with one of the local paramedic crews, observing them carrying out their shift, attending emergency incidents and talking to them about their work and their challenges.

Here are 5 things that I learned from the experience and how Softcat can support ambulance trusts across the UK:

1. The need for secure, reliable, and resilient mobile connectivity at the edge

As key workers increasingly rely on applications and data access out in the field, it becomes progressively more important to ensure that they are supported through reliable connectivity solutions. Paramedic crews rely on the devices that they are equipped with to access and enter data into their EPR (Electronic Patient Record) systems during and after a call, and legally, they must complete this virtual paperwork once a patient has been seen. Connectivity can play a big part in the speed and ease of access to these systems, and especially in rural areas any devices that are slowing down or dropping connections can really impact the time taken to finish up a job and respond to the next one.

How can Softcat help?

Softcat’s Emergency Services team have been working closely with our key partners to develop and support a range of reliable mobile connectivity devices. We have a rugged SD-WAN solution to provide secure, resilient, high bandwidth, next generation networking for ambulance vehicles. The solution enables the ambulance to become a connectivity hub for all digital health services, providing high bandwidth, secure connectivity to paramedics anywhere in the world via the ambulance itself.

2. The importance of fresh, supported, and tough end-user hardware

Following on from the need for secure, reliable, and resilient mobile connectivity at the edge – the tablets and mobile devices that paramedics are equipped with are incredibly important, to ensuring that they can carry out day to day tasks quickly and efficiently. Old and unreliable devices mean that data entry becomes a slow and laborious task – which slows down response times and can be frustrating for paramedics. Access to IT support can impact success here as well. Paramedic staff will often struggle to troubleshoot devices whilst on the go and could be anywhere in the region at point of failure depending on where the calls that day take them. Reliability is key, and modern devices will really help to support that.

How can Softcat help?

Softcat’s Digital Workspace team are specialists at engaging with end users in the emergency services. We believe it’s important to analyse user profiles across an organisation to recommend the right device for the job. We can wrap this around several support services designed to reduce burdens on IT teams to allow them to support these key staff in turn.

3.  Interoperability and access to data

Data informs decisions, and nowhere is this more important than in the time-critical, often life or death situations that our emergency services workers operate in every day. Fast access to reliable data is an incredibly important keystone of a modern and efficient organisation. This is especially evident in our ambulance services. This touches many areas from the day to day (i.e., can I access all the data I need to triage a patient effectively, or route and dispatch ambulances efficiently?) through to using data on a wider scale to equip leaders with the information needed to optimise services and analyse performance.

New models of Integrated Care are being established across the country, and this brings with it a fantastic new opportunity to develop joined-up and interconnected patient care and records systems. Ensuring that patient data is available and accessible to key workers at the point of use is needed to improve the consistency and effectiveness of healthcare, and emergency services systems across the country.

How can Softcat help?

Softcat work with a wide variety of partners that can support organisations with improving data visibility, accuracy, and interoperability. From designing and supporting the infrastructure required to host these systems, through to software and services required to manage, store, and deliver data to where it needs to be accessed. Softcat can take organisations through every step of their data journey.

4. The importance of innovation – and how NHS organisations find the space to innovate

One interesting takeaway from the experience was how much great work is already being done by trusts to innovate and improve services. During the visit to the ‘smart station’, I saw a range of great ideas already being put into practice. Examples of this included smart wallboarding, providing paramedics with important information about their shifts and stations at the touch of a button; through easy-to-use wallboards located throughout the station. IoT sensors, smart lighting, smart lockers, and cabinets were also in use across the site.

The principle here is to analyse the ‘flow’ of a paramedic through their workday and identify opportunities to streamline and improve. The trust has already demonstrated time savings of dozens of hours per month per station, through existing changes and there are plenty more that they would like to put into practice in the future. For me, being able to see these in person was exciting and really drives home the impact that positive innovative changes can make in a key worker’s day to day.

The real challenge is finding the breathing space to innovate, with the pressure that our emergency services organisations are under, it’s hard not to revert to a ‘default’ state of firefighting problems that arise every day. This can lead to a situation where organisations struggle to implement new ideas and end up just maintaining existing systems and processes. These inevitably age and become harder to manage as technology progresses.

How can Softcat help?

One of Softcat’s key functions is advisory, and we invest a huge amount in developing and hiring specialists across a huge range of disciplines, to provide our customers with the insight and expertise to innovate. Our OCTO (Office of the CTO) team is a great example. This consultancy and advisory team at Softcat bring unique perspectives and experiences to our customers. They’re responsible for understanding technology and the direction of travel, partnering with our sales, services, and partner organisations to develop our capabilities reflecting the evolving needs of our customers.

5. The people who bring process and technology together

Last, but not least, one of the most important things that I took away from this experience was a deeper appreciation for the amazing people that work in the emergency services sector. From the paramedics, call handlers, and dispatchers who use technology on the front line, to the raft of supporting teams and departments that enable them to do their jobs. Even though it was evident that the level of pressure these services are currently under is immense, there was an overriding sense of professionalism, teamwork, and positive outlook among all the people that I observed and spoke to during the shift. The paramedic crew were passionate about their responsibilities and keen to see how technological change could support them and deliver more efficient and intelligent services to the public in the future.

A massive thank you to the Innovation team at the trust who made my visit possible. It was inspiring to see their attitude to innovation and change, and we’re excited to be a part of their journey towards a more connected, effective, and intelligent service.

Get in touch to find out how Softcat can support you and enable your business to work more intelligently and efficiently.