A busy UK NHS Trust says a move to a focus on improved digital EX (Employee Experience) has led to a range of operational efficiencies, improved staff morale, and quantifiable cost reductions - and more time for actual healthcare.
In total, the organization’s Deputy Director of ICT projects £2.5 million to £3 million savings over a three-year period.
The theory is that this will mainly be won back by targeted refurbishment of equipment, like RAM upgrades or SSD replacement. This should be made possible as a result of a new, central way of identifying poorly performing machines and replacing them, as well as the implementation of auto-remediations to fix software issues without manual intervention.
An additional £140,000 over the five-year timeframe will be accrued by application repurposing, he adds.
The internal IT leader in question here--Jeffrey Wood--also reports a significant drop in service desk requests in just the first three months of digital EX-based support. He says:
In January 2023, we had 1,308 service tickets outstanding. Now, we’re down to 427 - of which only 176 are incidents, and the rest were straightforward service requests, i.e., people wanting new things or innovation. Some 629 of those original tickets were in breach of our SLAs, but now we are consistently in just single figures on that metric.
Other direct improvements, he says, include a dramatic reduction in device crashes - the dreaded ‘blue screens of death.’ These have gone from 947 hours of lost Trust employee productivity to more like 211, he says.
The Trust’s ICT team has also seen a complete turnaround in their work, he adds:
Previously, 85% to 90% of our time was spent on fire-fighting problems. We've now moved from that to under 40% - leaving the rest of the time for innovation.
A chance for change
Serving a population of 350,000, The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust provides healthcare services to the communities of west Essex, east Hertfordshire, and surrounding areas.
Its three main hospitals are The Princess Alexandra Hospital itself in Harlow, the Herts and Essex Hospital in Bishop’s Stortford, and St Margaret’s Hospital in Epping.
Wood and the rest of the Trust’s ICT team support over 3,700 colleagues, including doctors, clinicians, community nurses, and many other professionals.
Now, he says, those clinicians and admin support teams have been given back almost 700 hours quarterly in productivity - the equivalent of 28 days per month - for patient care instead of calling the help desk.
For Wood, success in healthcare transformation must be measured in more time for letting doctors and nurses do what they want to do - help people:
In healthcare a lot of technology comes along that’s meant to improve things and it can take a lot of effort to put data in to do that. But when the IT doesn't work, people are lost without it; we have clinicians that will cancel a clinic if they don't have the data to hand, and things like that.
For me, this is about giving them more time back in front of patients. If it takes 10, 15 minutes for your PC to restart in front of a patient, those are 10, 15 minutes that are probably two or three patients you don’t get time to see.
The context for these improvements was a rare opportunity in Britain’s battered healthcare system: funding for a brand new hospital. But Wood was worried that the best might not be made of the opportunity with the state of his existing service management delivery:
We started looking at ways to improve the patient experience, but the one thing we knew we were behind on was the issues that clinicians were having on a day-to-day basis with their computers and applications.
But we weren't able to quantify it - we simply had a lot of complaints that things weren’t working as quickly or as efficiently as they should do, like it taking half an hour sometimes to boot up a machine, the Wi-Fi being really sloppy and really poor, and so on.
Wood was frustrated by this, as he had been delivering a lot of improvements. Overall, the team was struggling to accurately benchmark both problems and successes. Wood decided a digital EX mindset was the best way to change this.
A move to unified thinking
Wood says the secret of his success is embracing better digital EX by use of a technique called ‘unified observability', explaining:
I didn't want IT to ask a user if it was a network or an application problem. Instead, I wanted us to be able to see end-to-end what they were actually experiencing, and that's why we started looking at digital and user experience monitoring.
This is delivered by Alluvio Aternity from Riverbed, software which is pitched as making the gathering of data, insights, and actions across IT easier, so internal technology teams can deliver more seamless and secure digital experiences.
To date, Wood is happy:
Before this was implemented, the only metrics we were picking up about problems were if it was failing completely, not really how long in actual seconds an app was taking to load. To really help improve the experience of using IT, it has to be about seeing what an end user actually sees or feels.
After a rapid evaluation period, the new software was installed and once ready to be integrated, Wood insisted on a full snapshot of where the Trust really was with IT and the user experience was captured:
To this day, I continue to monitor progress against that to make sure we really are consistently improving and the digital user experience here is getting better.
Wood is also pleased with the positive impact on his organization’s carbon footprint DEX is giving him. Current figures suggest, for example, that cutting down on devices running without being used was both bad for his budget, but also for CO2.
The good news here is that he believes use of the tool has cut this problem back so much that if in January 2023 the Trust owed the planet 4,000 trees annually back to balance that out, by year end this was down to more like 927.
Next steps for use of unified observability and digital EX at Princess Alexandra include, he says, is to expand the use of auto-remediations.
Use of this feature cuts down the amount of time an IT team member has to physically visit a machine. Some 50,000 devices were fixed in 2023 remotely at the Trust. However, Wood believes even greater efficiency could be achieved by tying auto-remediation to his chosen IT service management tool. Doing so will, he predicts, even further advance the use of data analytics for improving the IT experience at the Trust.