Policy and economics: Two obstacles to greater mobile phone use by health care professionals

Cash and the NHSThe recent change in guidance issued to NHS Trusts by the Department of Health has added further legitimacy to the use of mobile phones by health care professionals (HCPs). For more information, please see Using mobile phones in UK hospitals: what are the rules and is it safe?

But do negative attitudes to mobile phone use by HCPs still persist, restricting the opportunity to improve communication and patient care? When a HCP uses her phone in the interests of being more efficient, whether to reach a colleague or to help a patient, who picks up the tab?

In an effort to answer a range of questions like these, devices4 are currently running a survey into UK health care professionals usage and attitudes to mobile phone usage.  If you’re a HCP in the UK and haven’t taken it yet, please participate.  It takes just 5 minutes to complete.

We believe that mobile phones, and smart phones in particular, present a real opportunity to improve patient care, make HCPs more efficient and save money.  You can read a summary of our arguments here: Why health care professionals should carry mobile phones.

But we see two immediate obstacles to further adoption of this promising technology: Policy and Economics.

1) Policy

Based on our research, using publicly available information issued by different NHS organisations, mobile phone policy ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Knowledge of these policies is likely to differ between clinicians and administrators.  Adherence may differ further still, but in many cases they act as an impediment to greater use of this enabling technology.

To illustrate the point, consider this array of quotes from selected NHS organisations mobile phone policies:

Bristol Primary Care Trust: “There are two ways that the PCT will fund the use of mobile phones:

  1. Provide a phone and fund calls made from the phone
  2. Reimburse cost of calls for staff using their own mobile phone”

Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: “the Trust has no intention of banning staff from bringing their personal mobile phone to work”

Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: “Line Managers are responsible for providing local policy/guidance on the use of personal mobile phones at work.”

Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: “… mobile phone technology must be switched off in patients areas where treatment, examinations etc. are carried out.”

Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust: “Personal SmartPhones must not be used due to the device’s ability to hold and store PID [Personal Identifiable Data].”

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust: Staff may not use a private mobile phone when involved in patient care or in patient care areas”

NHS Yorkshire and the Humber SHA: “Staff are strongly discouraged from using personal mobile phones for work purposes.”

Over time, we expect the use of mobile phone technology by health care professionals to be regarded as best practice.  As attitudes change, policies should follow, and the restrictions on mobile phones will ease further – but the speed of change is hard to predict.

2) Economics

Building the investment case for more widespread provision of mobile phones to health care professionals should be a priority in the current economic climate.  We strongly believe the return on investment generated on a per connection basis is significant: with the cost of a day in a hospital bed comparable to the annual cost a mobile phone contract, its not hard to see why.  In an environment where an unprecedented scale of efficiency savings are being asked of the NHS, this is one stone that shouldn’t be left unturned.

We anticipate that a small, but significant, proportion of the HCP population are using their own mobile phones at work for work purposes without compensation.  Our survey will confirm or deny this.  We believe that while the provision of mobile phones by employers remains the exception, rather than the norm, more should be done to encourage HCPs to use their own mobile phone through compensation arrangements or other methods.

Have your say

  • Do you have an experience to share from your local area?
  • How does your Trust view mobile phone usage?
  • Are work phones provided?
  • Is the use of a personal phone for work purposes compensated?

Let us know your feedback using the comment box below.

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