How technology is helping to reduce healthcare backlogs

In both Ireland and the UK, new technologies are being used to speed up patient testing, improve medical care and digitize health records.

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As healthcare waiting lists continue to rise, organizations are turning to new technologies to help push the numbers.

Recent statistics say that around one in four Irish citizens – approximately 1.3 million people – are on some form of healthcare waiting list.

The global healthcare backlog has been growing in recent years as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Umang Patel is Microsoft UK’s Chief Clinical Information Officer and a practicing pediatrician. He said the healthcare backlog had “multiplied dramatically”.

“We essentially lost two years of elective treatment,” Patel said in a blog post. “And waiting lists are worse than ever.”

Patel said that despite the challenges, he remains “optimistic” as the technology is “much more advanced than we thought for our sector.”

“We knew we had to face these challenges at some point,” Patel said. “What is interesting, however, is that many of the challenges that we did not know how to answer have already inevitably arisen.

“We didn’t know if people would use their phones and different technologies to interact with healthcare. But they did and it wasn’t nearly as problematic as we thought.”

A number of healthcare providers in Ireland have taken steps this year to use new technology to reduce growing backlogs and improve patient care.

Mater Private Network recently announced a €26 million investment to improve medical records at all of its hospitals and clinics in Ireland. A multidisciplinary team aims to complete the rollout of an electronic health record system by 2024, which will integrate health records across the group’s network in Ireland.

In February, Tallaght University Hospital introduced an electronic patient record system to streamline patient information and speed up its services.

xWave: Accelerate patient testing

One Irish company working to reduce healthcare backlogs is xWave. Headquartered in NovaUCD, this start-up has developed a clinical platform to help medical professionals select tests for patients.

After the medical staff has entered information about a patient case, this platform presents them with recommendations for the next step according to the latest evidence-based guidelines, such as: B. X-ray, MRI scan, clinic appointment or self-management plan.

Speaking to, xWave CEO Mitchell O’Gorman said healthcare providers have typically tried to increase capacity, such as equipment or staffing, to deal with healthcare backlogs, but it can be “a slow and expensive fix.”

“There is growing awareness of the potential of intelligent technologies, such as our CDS (Clinical Decision Support) system, to reduce backlogs by ensuring patients receive the best test first,” said O’Gorman.

“Recently, there has been a significant move for healthcare providers to adopt digital technologies to deal with deteriorating waiting lists.”

The purpose of the xWave platform is to reduce the backlog of certain medical diagnostic tools that are crucial for the early detection of various diseases.

A review of the US Food and Drug Administration publication suggests that up to 50 percent of high-tech imaging modalities like CT scans may be unnecessary because they fail to provide information that improves patient well-being.

xWave said its support system is already in use in Irish hospitals and has helped cut average referral times from more than seven working days to 14 minutes.

The start-up said a recent audit of its CDS system suggests it has reduced the volume of referrals by more than 8 per cent at an Irish hospital group, freeing up system capacity for other patients.

“We are currently considering a pilot deployment of our clinical decision support systems to a number of GPs in Dublin to allow them appropriate access to imaging on behalf of their patients,” said O’Gorman.

xWave has also rolled out its platform in other countries, with a recent partnership with the Royal College of Radiologists in the UK. In June, this organization warned that healthcare backlogs and a shortage of radiology consultants are causing delays in treating cancer and other life-threatening conditions.

The partnership means xWave’s technology will be used in NHS hospitals in the UK. The start-up said it is working with a partnership of eight NHS trusts, covering more than 5 million patients, to develop a system to support radiology teams.

“Our mission is to save lives by making sure patients get the best test first,” O’Gorman said. “Although achieving this mission began with radiology, it is our intention to expand our work to all medical diagnostics.”

Digital tools for cancer patients

While xWave plans to expand its technology to other diagnostic devices, a new partnership in the UK is focusing on the cancer care backlog.

UK treatment and research center Guy’s Cancer has recently launched a digital cancer care platform for its patients and care teams.

The center has partnered with Careology to develop this platform. Careology is a digital platform that helps people living with cancer navigate their care by using mobile technology to connect them with doctors and caregivers.

The two organizations have entered into a five-year collaboration to drive innovation in cancer care through the development of new digital tools. It is hoped that this partnership will result in better support for cancer patients, as well as improved clinical insight, data and operational improvements.

dr Majid Kazmi is Head of Cancer Aid and Deputy Medical Director of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Kazmi said he is a “passionate advocate” for the adoption of patient-centric digital technology.

“Digital technology has the potential to help patients and caregivers be better informed and supported, and to empower healthcare professionals with the relevant information that enables them to provide more responsive service and free up time for care.”

Careology CEO Paul Landau said there is a “great opportunity” for digital technology to transform the delivery of traditional cancer care.

“We are creating important technologies that provide improved patient support, enhanced clinical insights, data and operational improvements,” said Landau.

“Our collaboration with the Trust will allow us to accelerate the development and launch of this important new category with a best-in-class partner to transform traditional cancer care through scalable technology, so more people receive the best possible care.”

Akara: Purification of the disinfection process

Another Irish company is exploring ways to reduce healthcare residues through the power of robotics.

Akara was spun off from Trinity College Dublin in 2019 and focuses on developing AI and robotics for the healthcare sector.

It started with Stevie, a caregiver robot designed to interact with the elderly and help out in nursing homes and senior communities.

In 2020, the start-up introduced its disinfection robot Violet, which can navigate autonomously through a room and disinfect it with ultraviolet light. It has been used in Irish hospitals in partnership with the HSE.

The start-up said the idea for air decontamination robots arose from the pressures of Covid-19, where thorough cleaning of the air was paramount to avoid the spread of infection.

Recently, Akara has brought its technology to other countries to support their disinfection efforts. One of its healthcare robots was recently tested at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (RCHT). The machine was used in treatment rooms where the air is at a higher risk of contamination.

According to certain medical tests, hospital rooms must be vacated for more than 25 minutes to allow clean air to flow in through the vents. Akara said his robot can reduce that downtime to 10 minutes, allowing more procedures to take place.

In October, RCHT deputy director of infection prevention and control Joanne Taylor said the machine had “definitely made things better for patients” thanks to reduced downtime.

She estimates that the robot could enable up to 2,400 additional procedures per year, “which would have a very significant effect on reducing waiting lists.”

Akara has also partnered with an Estonian hospital to provide its staff with new disinfection software. This partnership aims to support employees in their cleaning and disinfection procedures by digitally logging cleaning tasks using Akara’s digital platform.

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