Nov 21, 2020

Moving towards better vascular care

vascular health
Dr. Nick West
4 min
Moving towards better vascular care
Dr. Nick West, Chief Medical Officer at Abbott Vascular, analyses the findings of a recent survey on caring for vascular patients...

Abbott recently published a position paper on the future blueprint for the care of vascular patients, based on the results of extensive qualitative market research conducted worldwide. 

At Abbott, we are always asking ourselves how might we improve patient outcomes through technological advances and better data visibility – but before we can begin to answer that question, we must establish a baseline - capture the “lay of the land” and determine where the pain points are for those we aim to serve as a global healthcare provider.

A broad cross-section of opinions across nine countries (the US, the UK, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, India, China, and Japan) captured the perspectives of cardiologists or physicians who refer patients to interventional cardiologists; patients suffering from coronary artery disease or peripheral arterial disease; and hospital administrators responsible for investments in cardiovascular devices and capital equipment. 

The goal of this piece of work was to provide a snapshot or a window into the world of vascular care, to examine the convergences and divergences between these three groups, and to uncover some of the universal attitudes towards healthcare as a whole. 

What emerged from the results is broadly captured as follows: 

  • Patients feel that they are not getting enough face-to-face time with their physicians, translating into a perceived lack of personalized care, or treatment plans designed specifically for them.
  • Physician, similarly, acknowledged the scarcity of time with patients and expressed concerns about follow-up care and patient adherence to prescribed treatments and lifestyle modification, aimed at improving outcomes.
  • Hospital administrators understandably felt the pressure to deliver high quality, positive patient experiences with good outcomes while managing constrained budgets.
  • When the survey turned to potential solutions, there was consensus amongst the three groups that diagnostic and data-driven technology holds the promise of more holistic, evidence-based patient care. However, when it came time to identify those specific technologies, there was no immediate runaway winner. 

Could technology facilitate more personalized care? Patients think so, with just over half of all patients surveyed believing that technology could help doctors understand the latest approaches to treatment to define exactly what is right for each patient. Nearly half of the patients surveyed also felt that the benefits of diagnostic and treatment technologies included their ability to improve a doctor’s “understanding of a patient’s individual condition and measure my risks,” and over 90 per cent were prepared to share their individual data to achieve better care for themselves and others.

When it comes to filling the data gap, patients still want more individualized care from their physicians. According to the survey, “data that lets my doctor see my problem and act on it in a tailored-for-me-manner,” was the number one overall choice among patient respondents (cited by 72 per cent globally). 

Eighty-two percent of physicians acknowledge the advances in diagnostic and treatment technology already available to them have definitely resulted in reductions in the need for invasive interventions, and have also assured that patients are treated correctly from the start. 

But when asked about addressing the data gaps in patient care, there was no consensus on the solution; genetic biomarker data, data that presented clinical outcomes based on treatment, total cost of care data, genetic mapping, and data gaps on treatment plans all held sway with the physicians Abbott surveyed. Even if we had the ability to collect and synthesize all the data points that physicians identified as beneficial, doctors today are still not able to share this data across the care continuum, and therefore cannot meet the expectations of patients to deliver individualized care plans. 

To reach that point, the entire healthcare ecosystem needs to be mutually beneficial - a system in which both patient and doctor are supported by a healthcare system with the right infrastructure and technologies, facilitating physicians to provide the best patient care, and where the tools and conditions enable patients to adhere to medication, treatment and lifestyle modifications.

The analysis and research we have undertaken to determine the needs of physicians, patients and administrators is one of the hallmarks of user-centered design. By focusing on the whole patient, and by placing him or her at the center of care, providers can see beyond the intervention alone. Now that we know what patients, physicians and hospital administrators think they need, it is up to us in the medical device industry to take the data we have gathered, analyze it, and translate it into meaningful and measurable change for the benefit of vascular patients and their caregivers. 

The patient journey goes far beyond the utility of the medical devices manufactured, and the short episode in which that device is deployed or utilized, and we must adapt our vision to encompass the whole patient. With the growing influence of telemedicine and the advent of artificial intelligence, the scope is widening for companies like Abbott to encompass patient care before, during and after intervention. 

What patients, physicians and administrators alike are asking for is change. Change, even on an incremental scale, can have an enormous impact. I look forward to seeing the change that comes as we move towards more patient-centered vascular care.

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Jun 11, 2021

How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog

6 min
UiPath software robots are helping clinicians at Dublin's Mater Hospital save valuable time

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover

However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time. 

When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic? 
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses. 

The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020. 

The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides. 

What tasks do they perform? 
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day. 

UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work. 

Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans? 
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.  

Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can. 

Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved? 
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients. 

In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing. 

How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond? 
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted. 

Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.

Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast. 

The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues. 

How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.  

Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology. 

Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally. 

How do you see this technology evolving in the future? 
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise. 

By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too. 

We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money. 

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