Dr Ahmed Shahrabani, Co-Founder of Locum’s Nest, draws from his own experience to examine the adoption of technology during the Covid-19 era and how this can be maintained following the pandemic

When I returned to the health service to help in the fight against Covid-19, I found myself comparing and drawing conclusions on what technology had been adopted during my time away, and what the future may hold for the NHS and tech after the pandemic.

I left the NHS around four years ago to co-found a tech business called Locum’s Nest, which helps support the sector in its never-ending battle with finding clinicians and filling shifts. Naturally, I have watched NHS tech adoption with great interest in recent years, and there has clearly been some major advances. These range from Robotic Surgery, to CRISPR epigenetics to help support those in need of rare blood transfusions – amazing developments are happening all across the sector.

What struck me when I returned was the usage of ‘everyday technology’ that is helping in hospitals. Video interacting has been crucial in connecting loved ones. I witnessed some sobering scenes of patients, critically unwell with Covid-19, video calling family on iPads because relatives were banned from visiting the hospital, without this patient morale and recovery would be badly affected.

These methods may not seem revolutionary but have revolutionised the ways of working as a doctor in the hospital environment

Dr Ahmed Shahrabani, Co-Founder, Locum’s Nest

Likewise, for the doctors themselves, simple technology has proved vital in delivering care in critical moments. Using ‘iPads on wheels’ has enabled experienced medical consultants to  remain at home and simultaneously share their wisdom and expertise with juniors who were physically on the wards. In some ways, we have seen a ‘back to basics’ approach implemented, the trusted pager/bleep was king during shifts – negating the need to use mobile phones in hot wards, thereby reducing the risk of contaminating personal devices.

These methods may not seem revolutionary but have revolutionised the ways of working as a doctor in the hospital environment. That being said, I do find the notion that Covid-19 is the single biggest driver towards digital transformation and innovation unhelpful. Yes, in some areas innovation has been adopted faster to respond to the pandemic, but we must have a balanced view of the whole landscape, looking at this tech adoption in the bigger picture. It has been the coming together and unified response of the NHS, independent sector and government that has driven innovation. Huge steps can be made quickly when all parties work together and constantly keep assessing ways of working, learnings, best practices every step of the way. We must keep this momentum going.

Collaboration is key

It is during this era of unity that my own company, Locum’s Nest, began collaborating with another innovator,  Rotageek, a platform providing advanced rostering solutions. We want to see what can be done better and together to help the NHS’s temporary workforce – which has provided itself a critical resource in the past months. We have recently launched what is thought to be the first integrated service from two healthcare companies following the period of rapid innovation in response to Covid-19.

What does the future hold for technology in healthcare? Whatever happens we need it to make the everyday lives of our healthcare workers easier and safer, putting patient centered care at the forefront. Some of the most important tech uptakes during the pandemic have been the ‘everyday technology’ that is comfortable to use and implement.

From the outside it is very easy to criticize the pace of adoption of innovation in the NHS – but this is often misguided. We are not working in the finance or retail industries, where innovations can be prematurely tested and adopted without major consequences. We are in the business of people’s health and livelihoods. Therefore, changes need to be built upon trust, and this takes time to nurture. I will watch this space with great intrigue, to see how we continue to adopt and implement innovation in a world now shaped by Covid-19.