Feature Content

Feature: using WiFi and bedside infrastructure to turbocharge innovation

Content by SPARK TSL.

SPARK TSL has just acquired Sentean Group and its Fusion Bedside platform so hospitals can use them to deliver state-of-the-art apps to drive efficiency and captivate patients. Here, we talk to chief executive Matt O’Donovan about the seismic potential this offers.

NHS trusts and health boards have made a significant investment in WiFi and bedside infrastructure. This investment has been made to deliver communication and entertainment services to patients and staff; but it has the potential to be used for much more.

SPARK TSL specialises in WiFi for healthcare and is a leading supplier to trusts and health boards across England and Scotland. As the result of an acquisition, it also runs the Hospedia bedside infrastructure – the units on ‘arms’ that can be seen on wards up and down the country.

SPARK TSL has a strong vision for healthcare. It wants to shift away from the outdated (and unpopular) ‘patient pays’ model for patient communication and entertainment. And it wants to make sure that technology infrastructure is used to its full potential.

Chief executive Matt O’Donovan explains: “For the past year, we have been talking to IT departments, facilities managers and patient engagement leads about the apps that they would like to use to deliver a step-change in clinical and operational efficiency while captivating patients.

“In round tables and one-to-one conversations, we have heard there is an urgent need to streamline the delivery of clinical, ‘hotel’ and meal services, and to get information about everything from treatment plans to discharge arrangements into the hands of patients in a cost-effective way.”

Complimentary technology, shared values

At the same time, SPARK TSL has been talking to a Dutch company, Sentean Group, about a digital platform that it has developed to support the delivery of just these kinds of apps. The discussions have culminated in SPARK TSL’s acquisition of the company and its Fusion Bedside platform.

O’Donovan believes it will be a “game-changer” for healthcare in the UK and the Netherlands. “It was one of those: ‘I want one of those moments’,” he says about seeing Fusion Bedside for the first time. “It is a scaleable platform, with great interoperability, that supports features that have been on our roadmap for some time.

“The first thing I did was find out who was behind it. I discovered it was Sentean Group and managed to place a call with managing director Willem-Jan te Riele that really struck a chord.

“We realised our businesses had worked through a similar transformation from the old Patient Line system to state-of-the-art technology, and that by working together we could help hospitals to deliver a step-change in digital transformation.”

From free WiFi to patient activation  

SPARK TSL has been integral to the development of the WiFi and bedside infrastructure the NHS has in place. We started working with a large London trust in 2005 and went on to develop SPARK Connect to help hospitals deliver free NHS WiFi a decade later.

It also developed a SPARK Media package of live and on-demand TV, magazines, games and entertainment, with log-in screens that trusts can use to deliver additional information to users or to support their charities. In 2020, we became part of the Volaris Group, and the following year it acquired bedside unit provider Hospedia.

Hospedia is very well known in the NHS and (SPARK TSL would acknowledge) not always for good reasons. It took over the old Patient Line contract for bedside communications and entertainment, which was awarded on a ‘patient pays’ basis.

That’s why SPARK TSL has been so keen to move trusts to a ‘free at the point of delivery’ model, while talking to senior leaders about how to make better use of the substantial infrastructure installed to support the Hospedia system.

The trunking, wiring, and arms on which the units operated can be used to support modern communication and entertainment devices. And SPARK TSL can already offer hospitals SPARK Horizon units that look like large iPads and use the same kind of touch-screen technology.

However, O’Donovan emphasises that SPARK TSL doesn’t just want to deliver WiFi, and entertainment, and units, to hospitals. Its vision is to offer a complete package of connectivity solutions to hospitals that want to use digital transformation to secure significant time and efficiency savings, while activating patients.

“What’s exciting is the innovation that we can support,” he says, “and we are already working with organisations that see the potential. For example, we are engaging with a trust in the Midlands that wants to use SPARK Media to signpost patients attending its emergency department to alternative services.

“And, of course, it can offer them information and entertainment while they are waiting. What’s fantastic about the acquisition of Sentean Group and Fusion Bedside is that it will turbocharge these opportunities.”

A platform built to deliver digital transformation

Sentean Group has been on a very similar journey to SPARK TSL in the Netherlands, where it works with around 40 percent of acute hospitals.

Its development dates back to the acquisition of another branch of Patient Line by investors who included te Riele. In 2024, the business merged with CareServant, an offshoot of Philips, and launched the Fusion platform.

Fusion Bedside uses the international HL7 messaging standard to enable apps to integrate with electronic patient records (including Epic and Cerner) and other clinical, facilities, and information systems. From the outset, it has taken an Apple-first approach, so staff and patients can access these apps using an iPad or other device, via a simple, graphical interface.

The apps that are already available on the platform cover the span of a hospital stay. While they are preparing for treatment, patients can access information about their treatment plan and who is going to be caring for them.

While they are in hospital, they can stay in touch with family members, watch streaming services, order food, and control their environment. And when they are ready for discharge, they can access rehabilitation and medication reminders.

“Even simple apps have the potential to deliver significant efficiency and cost savings,” O’Donovan points out. “For example, the platform can support a modern ‘nurse call system’ that swaps the familiar ‘red button’ by the patient’s bedside for an app that enables the patient to indicate what support they need.

“That might be an extra pillow, or a drink of water, or a review of their pain medication. Because nurses know what is needed, they can save time by taking it straight to the bedside; while the patient gets a much better experience.”

Another offer is a food order app that pulls data from the EPR to make sure the patient orders a diet that is appropriate for them, reducing the enormous waste and cost of uneaten meals. All of these services can be delivered using Apple’s deployment technology, so hospitals will be able to start small on a ward; and scale proven ideas rapidly and cost-effectively.

Fast, scaleable technology

However, the impact of these developments won’t be felt through the deployment of any one app. They’ll come from hospitals and health boards using their existing WiFi and bedside infrastructure to rethink how they can deliver innovation.

“This is fantastic, scaleable technology,” O’Donovan says, “and the fact that it is already proven and in use in some very big hospitals in the Netherlands means we can be confident about getting it adopted faster in the UK than we could if we tried to reinvent the wheel.

“By acquiring Sentean Group, and bringing Fusion Bedside to the UK, we can offer hospitals connectivity solutions to drive measurable efficiency while improving patient engagement, education, and outcomes – which are, in the end, what matter.

“Down the line, I think there is also a fantastic opportunity to use this technology to support service transformation. Imagine apps that support trust discharge procedures, by giving patients the information, medication reminders, and exercise regimes they need.

“Or apps that support virtual consultations and virtual wards, so patients can be discharged faster, while staying in touch with their clinical teams. Our discussions have shown that the health service is open to this kind of innovation. What it needs is a fast, scaleable, route for delivering it.”

Get ready for a rapid roll-out

The news about SPARK TSL’s acquisition of Sentean Group is “hot off the press.” But O’Donovan says he is already talking to early adopter trusts. “Hospedia had 50,000 bedside units with power and internet connections, and they can easily migrate to the Fusion Bedside platform,” he says.

“If that happens, trusts will be replacing that old technology with a shiny mobile device, running some incredible applications. And they’ll be adopting a platform that can deliver a seismic shift in their adoption of innovative ideas down the line.

“I think that’s going to happen very quickly. Of course, the NHS is under pressure, and money is tight, and there’s uncertainty about the long-term direction of travel. But I suspect the trajectory for the adoption of this technology is going to be similar to the roll-out of WiFi when we took free patient WiFi to the NHS.

“Back then, four or five trusts adopted it, and those early adopters set the scene for others to come on board, and then we had a cookie-cutter solution for the rest. And I think this will be the same because the benefits will be obvious very quickly. I’m looking forward to some exciting months ahead.”