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Tech for loan: how the NHS is prioritising patient engagement for all

7 Minute Read

“The NHS, and the wider health and care system, is committed to delivering information and services digitally wherever possible,” that is the opening remark in NHS Digital’s digital inclusion guide published in December of 2021. From laying out its technological transformation plans in its Long Term Vision in 2019 to now, the NHS has endured pressure after pressure to modernise and adapt to a digitally-focused world.  

Whether investing in WiFi refreshes or clinical technology, the scope for digital adoption is wide, and private sector providers are rigorously innovating to make the transition as smooth as possible.  

“For patients, digital health can mean better access to information and care, increased convenience, and more opportunities for greater control of their own health and shared care,” the guide continues. When it comes to patient-facing digitisation we have to be considerate as to how patients will engage with the change. This means considering how inclusive is it really to move everything online, accessible only via the internet. 

To move towards digital-only engagement we first have to understand the availability, accessibility, and inclusivity of the change. With premier providers rolling out ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) solutions, what happens to those who don’t have their own device to use?  

Are the resources accessible? If a device is procured, can the user feel comfortable navigating the technology? And finally, does going digital and expecting people to access engagement and clinical integration resources exclude those who struggle with technology or poorer members of society?  

It seems that these are questions the healthcare sector’s tech titans have been asking themselves for years. Let’s take a look at the tablet loaning scheme being adopted to drive engagement, level digital inclusion, and improve the patient experience.  


A 2020/21 Ofcom report on adult media usage defined media literacy as ‘the ability to use, understand, and create media and communications in a variety of contexts.’ The digital literacy of the UK has skyrocketed in recent years and the same report found that the pandemic has been a catalyst for people embracing technology and becoming more confident online.  

However, the previous year’s report found that 13% of adults surveyed did not use the NHS internet at all, citing cost, confusion and personal data concerns chief among the reasons why. It is the responsibility of tech providers working with the NHS to quash these concerns and deliver innovation, in line with the NHS’ wider commitment, that works for everyone.  

With the Ofcom report finding that 34% of adults use devices other than a computer to access the internet and 11% only using a smartphone, the nation’s love for small, portable devices meant that the natural choice to run alongside a BYOD solution was a tablet loaning scheme.  

Patient engagement provider WiFi SPARK works to deliver its own BYOD solution to over 80 NHS Trusts across the UK and has been able to roll out a successful tech for loan programme in collaboration with a number of Trusts that ensures everyone can access the engagement resources.  

When working with WiFi SPARK to build a tailored solution, Trusts purchase a number of ‘locked-down’ tablets to be distributed across the wards. Stored in a charging trolley, the tablets host the WiFi SPARK patient engagement platform, SPARK® Media, and are given to patients to enjoy at their leisure during their time in hospital.


Unlike a personal iPad or tablet littered with every application available, the patient engagement tablets only host SPARK® Media which acts as the homepage for all engagement activity. From streaming TV to ordering hospital meals to your bedside, the capabilities of the platform are determined by the Trust’s desired engagement output.  

By streamlining the user interface and boldly labelling the buttons on the platform, SPARK® Media is easy to navigate and accessible to all.  

Applications within the platform such as communication aids enable those who have difficulty speaking and communicating to use images as a way of engaging with staff.  

Accessibility is key for WiFi SPARK and it understands that people may still need a helping hand, that’s why its solution is supported by a 24/7/365 UK-based Service Desk on hand to provide support so staff won’t have to deviate from their tasks. 

Data Security

‘People are increasingly aware of personal data issues, but there is still a gap between their stated confidence in managing personal data and their understanding of the different ways in which companies collect personal data online,’ notes the Ofcom report.  

Those that are put off going online or getting a device of their own because of the risk to their data security miss out on the same entertainment and engagement resources that everyone else enjoys. The 13% of adults that stayed away from the internet because of concerns about data can utilise the tablets for loan as the tablets request information at the choice and discretion of the user.  

The video calling solution, SPARK® Media: Unite, that kept so many connected during the pandemic, only requires the email or phone number of the call recipient, and administrative integrations such as digital meal ordering require some health and personal information to deliver the correct meals and nutrition. However, between each use, a button is pressed and the device is wiped of any and all patient data ready for the next user, guaranteeing no risk to personal data security.  

Inclusive Change

With internet users less likely than in 2018 to validate online information sources, there is an increased importance in providing a hub for trusted, legitimate information, particularly when encouraging patients to take control of their own health. Patient engagement platforms facilitate access to Trust-vetted information, but loaned devices ensure that the teachings reach everyone.  

Whilst device usage and media literacy are on the rise, the circumstances that bring people into healthcare facilities may prevent people to prepare and bring their own, and there will still be some people who do not have their own device at all.  

Companies like WiFi SPARK deliver a unified solution, for patient's own devices as well as tablets for loan as part of their solution and works with Trusts to develop a platform that translates the engagement goals of the organisation. All the while prioritising availability, accessibility, and data security for your patients. Extending beyond this, the company is working on providing SPARK® Media on bedside units already available by the patient's bedside. 

As the NHS dedicates its resources to digitally transforming all aspects of its service delivery, we are able to see a concerted effort to ensure that this doesn’t exclude the portion of patients, visitors, and staff that find technology challenging or stay away from it altogether. By providing tablets that users can borrow during their time in hospital, and by making the platform as accessible as possible, patient engagement is now something that can be enjoyed by everyone and can continue to evolve with the NHS’ technical capabilities.  


WiFi SPARK is changing the face of patient engagement across the NHS. The business’ recent acquisition of Hospedia is set to revive engagement opportunities and see integration with digital services that will drive technological transformation in the healthcare sector.  

WiFi SPARK CEO, Matt O’Donovan, and Hospedia MD, Jason Cooper, recently held a webinar answering your questions and laying out the company’s plans across the next three years. Did you miss it? Not to worry, catch up now via the link below.

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