The internal IT department of a Lincolnshire-based healthcare provider has expanded to support 15 external organisations, and reinvested its profits in care provision.
F4 IT was created 10 years ago, from the internal IT department of community healthcare provider Care Plus.
In the past decade it has grown from six IT professionals to 14, and now supports more than 2,000 workstations, 1,500 mobile devices and 2,500 individuals across north-east Lincolnshire.
Care Plus, which has around 900 staff in total, split from the NHS 10 years ago to become a social enterprise, commissioned by the NHS to provide community health services, including nursing.
Its internal IT department, now branded as F4 IT, has revolutionized the use of IT in Care Plus over the years, and is now doing the same for organizations in the healthcare sector, as well in private businesses.
Helen Chalkley has been a nurse at Care Plus since 2006. When she started, IT was basic, with nurses sharing a few office desktops and using paper worksheets. “You have to come in and wait for a computer to document your work with patients,” he told Computer Weekly.
Today, the use of IT is unknown. Each member of the clinical and admin teams now has their own laptop. Nurses on the move have mobile devices that connect to laptops, providing a constant live connection to the NHS clinical computer system, known as SystemOne, allowing them to document visits instantly. “We’ve had some incidents of error when documentation wasn’t done because the nurses didn’t have time or access,” Chalkley said.
Live access to patient records while in their homes reduces the time taken from seeing the patient to updating the record. This should be done in 24 hours, but through the IT system it is now done almost instantly. This has reduced the number of serious incidents due to errors, and cut travel time and costs for nurses traveling between homes, headquarters and patients’ homes.
Care workers have always had access to SystemOne, but the way they use it has changed over the years. “It now has a visitation system in there, whereas it used to be on paper documents,” Chalkley said. “We do it all electronically now, and it can be updated live so we can add visits to people’s visit list as needed.”
Efficiency is important, with about 240 Care Plus nurses making up to 20 visits per day. SystemOne also gives nurses access to electronic patient records, which is the main system they connect to.
According to Chalkley, the organization also moved away from keeping paper records, which involved “a lot of duplication”.
In addition, clinical teams now have access to Microsoft Teams and communication tools. Microsoft Teams channels now allow video calls and chats to take place, as well as collaboration on shared documents. The software was used extensively by Care Plus during the pandemic, but it has become part of everyday life.
IT user skills are improving in the nursing community, according to Chalkley, but there is an experienced team that keeps the organization up to date with the latest technology.
David Whitfield, IT customer services manager at F4 IT, says that 10 years ago Care Plus received IT support from a larger supplier as part of the NHS, but it then decided to make the an in-house department. This is only possible because the organization is no longer part of the NHS, which has its own IT agreements.
“Because Care Plus has left the NHS to become a social enterprise, it gives it a bit more autonomy in how it does things,” Whitfield said. “It brought in its own human and finance departments and thought, “We have our own internal services, maybe we need our own IT.'”
Whitfield was one of the first members recruited for this team. “It was an opportunity to build a team from scratch with new infrastructure and personnel systems,” he said.
It started with four experts who built the foundations, with projects around the creation of a service desk and the construction of IT infrastructure. When the foundation was completed, the group expanded to about six people.
This has further increased as other organizations want IT services from the Care Plus IT team. “Over time, because we had a reputation for doing good, other organizations that provide local health care said they were interested in our services,” said Whitfield.
In the first five years it started adding new customers and decided it needed its own identity. It became F4 IT, and now has 14 people supporting 15 organizations in total, with 2,500 people in service. The organizations supported mainly include those operating in health care, including a mental health care organization and hospices, but it also extends to the business sector with a company to haul its books.
All profits are reinvested to improve the Care Plus service. “The profit we make goes straight back into Care Plus, which ultimately improves the health care provided to the local community.”
Freedom of choice
When the organization was part of the NHS, it had little choice in the IT used, because it was decided by the NHS centrally, but when it separated, it had its own decisions to make.
Whitfield said one of the first was choosing a service desk product, and now at the center of the F4 IT operation is service desk software from ManageEngine. “It’s our core system, our bread and butter,” he said.
It’s used across F4 IT’s customer base, and Whitfield was impressed by ManageEngine’s ability to adapt to fit customer processes rather than the other way around. “It’s highly customizable and the software can be written to suit how an organization works,” he said.
The system enabled the team to centralize internal IT processes, driving efficiency and saving IT technicians up to half a day a week. “It’s also more than just a service desk, with many products, including patch management capabilities, remote control software and mobile device management,” Whitfield said.
He added that despite its separation from the NHS, the team has a guiding principle that is not incompatible with the national jewel: “We must always remember that the impact of everything we do is a clinician and a patient in end of every decision. , change and progress.”