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Interview: Developing a digital healthcare future

You might be surprised to know that video-conferencing has been on the go in one form or another for more than three decades. But the pandemic and availability of platforms such as Zoom have meant taking that next step forward across the healthcare world. John Mulgrew speaks to Sam McMaster, director of HSL Telehealth, about the technology it’s now putting in the hands of patients and professionals alike


Interview: Developing a digital healthcare future

Interview: Developing a digital healthcare future

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Interview: Developing a digital healthcare future

For Sam McMaster, the idea of a video call and conferencing, is something that’s been in wheelhouse in one way or another going back as far as the year this journalist was born.

Now, he’s working with medical business Hospital Services Limited (HSL) to roll-out an official partnership with Zoom to deliver secure, and high-quality remote video-conferencing for a host of major health organisations, and needs, across the UK and Ireland.

“I joined in HSL in 2018 to bring along the experience and customer base which I had built up,” he says.

“When you do a good job, customers stay with you. I had every health authority as a customer, and we focused on health as a key market for video and collaboration.”

In 2018, HSL set up a new business unit in response to client demand, HSL Telehealth, which focuses on engaging with clients digitally to support their existing collaboration and conferencing needs.

“We have a plan to acquire a good customer base around the transformation of health services in Northern Ireland, the Republic and GB. We are very much ahead of our initial plan as we can bring experience (to the role).”

Sam says he first fell in love with telecoms more than 35 years ago, and was part of the team which developed one of the world’s first video conferencing systems back in 1985 – from San Francisco to San Jose.

Since then, he’s enjoyed a lengthy CV working across a range of key roles within communication and the health sector.

What HSL offers up to healthcare professionals through its Zoom partnership is a different level of security and quality of service. The days of ‘Zoom bombing’ are long gone in this regard.

“The challenge with Zoom is allowing customers to have the app in their pocket, and have a familiarity with it, making it a means of accessing healthcare in various ways,” Sam says.

“Because the pandemic started, and people started to use video, it became accessible – everyone could use it and download it.

“With the year we have been in, there is a huge amount of familiarity and usage from the general public (towards Zoom). To ignore that as part of how patients access their healthcare provider would be ridiculous.”

The system employs secure and encrypted links. When a user opens Zoom it takes them into the session within the healthcare system, and requires less navigation – making it more accessible and easy to use for those less familiar with video-conferencing.

“We ensure that the data flowing across is heavily encrypted, secure and private – running on a data centre in London.

Currently, it’s working with two major trusts here – the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and Western Social Health and Social Care Trust.

Sam says while others continue to use Zoom for some elements, they are in the process of transitioning to using the HSL Telehealth system.

The system can be, and is currently, used for a range of medical purposes. That includes general medical appointments with GPs, cancer appointments, access to consultations for areas such as diabetes, neo-natal and mental health.

It has a host of major customers across the NHS in England which utilise its services, including Great Ormond Street’s children’s hospital in London.

Telehealth solutions have been widely embraced by NHS and private healthcare providers and patients alike during the ongoing pandemic and this new way of providing and accessing patient care is expected to endure within the local healthcare sector post-pandemic.

The team is also hoping that almost every hospital in Ireland will be using Zoom in some part of their operations, and the availability of Zoom through a healthcare partner removes the risks of investing in this technology in many more parts of healthcare development and delivery.

Sam says the hope is to roll-out the services across as many as 70 health trusts across the UK over the next two or three years.