Healthcare apps have the power to make life easier for staff while improving efficiency and saving money, says Guy Smallman.

Health professionals never stop learning. Working in such a hugely complex, ever-evolving sector, those in health and social care need to continually improve and refresh their knowledge and skills in order to keep up with the pace of change.

In Spring 2013, when Health Education England takes over the strategic health authorities’ responsibility for education and training, they, together with the new local education and training boards will change the structure of staff development.

This new structure should provide an opportunity for education and training for the whole workforce to be examined and integrated. It is a chance to drive innovation in health service training and make better use of existing and emerging technologies to provide training that is cost effective, sophisticated and dynamic.

‘Traditional learning methods can also be time-consuming, lacking in dynamism and often very costly’

Of course, there are many existing ways of providing training to health professionals – from workshops to journals, lectures, conferences and, of course, learning on the job.

Traditional training methods can be very effective, allowing opportunities for personal development, sharing best practice, building confidence and refreshing skills. However, in many cases, traditional learning methods can also be time-consuming, lacking in dynamism and often very costly.

Collaborative potential

As the health and social care industry begins to recognise the increasing availability and potential of using devices such as smartphones and tablets, the market for applications for health related training and development is also growing.

Smartphone apps can be adapted and used by healthcare professionals for a variety of functions, helping to modernise the sector by making best use of the digital technologies available.

Apps do not have to replace traditional training methods like group training, or face to face discussions, but can complement existing methods and bring efficiency.

They allow multiple users to work effectively and collaboratively across boundaries and services, and can also provide a safe environment for managers or clinicians to test out new ways of working, managing risk while enabling learning and development.

Apps have enormous potential as training and development tools. Such a highly flexible, blended learning platform allows the condensing and sharing of huge amounts of information, in a range of easily navigable formats. The accessible format lets people learn whenever and wherever is convenient for them.

Long working hours mean many health and social care professionals find it very difficult to find the time for training and professional development. Apps allow for self-managed learning, fitting into busy lives and making training more manageable and enjoyable.

At Coventry University’s Health Design & Technology Institute we specialise in the development of community healthcare products and have recently launched a new service designing and evaluating health and social care apps.

One project being developed by the university’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences Midwifery Mobile Learning Team is a range of apps providing midwifery training in a range of problematic delivery conditions. The app is aimed at student midwives, midwives and junior doctors who require annual mandatory training.

Limitless functionality

Embedded within these apps are several learning elements for quick reference such as recommended reading, a glossary of terms and a series of lecture recordings. There is also an integrated test function which allows learning to be assessed and provides instant feedback to the users. To provide a deeper level of training, the apps also contain detailed illustrations, video and animations.

App functionality is virtually limitless and can provide the user with a truly individual learning tool, matched to their specific needs. With smartphones and tablets, connectivity is built in and apps can aid interactive learning, such as 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, sound and video, voice recorder and camera.

Not only do health apps offer more flexibility, they can also provide huge cost savings. In the current landscape of sweeping NHS cutbacks and reforms, this could not be more crucial.

Training is often one of the first casualties of cost-cutting drives, and using innovative technologies can mean that training and development initiatives can continue at a lower cost.

Tablets and smartphones are readily available and relatively low cost when compared to other training tools and, with apps being so inexpensive to update, obsolescence can be minimised and expensive publications and print runs avoided.

Growing sophistication

Apps are also designed to be simple. If you know the basics of how to use a smartphone, you can quickly learn to use new apps, reducing training time for both student and teacher.

Apps have all the benefits of traditional learning and development methods, but are also portable, easily updated, and can be accessed anytime, anywhere, fitting in around even the most demanding schedule.

Mobile technology is becoming more sophisticated all the time and apps have huge potential to give managers and clinicians effective, inexpensive, and personalised training to allow them to improve the service patients receive.

Guy Smallman is commercial development director at Coventry University’s Health Design & Technology Institute