Guest Blog from Robert Grant, Ph.D., Research and Marketing Analyst, RelateCare

In a corner of the South-East of Ireland an ecosystem of connected health innovation is being developed through an exciting new partnership between Waterford Institute of Technology School of Health Sciences and ARCH Industry Member RelateCare, a Waterford-based organisation and that specialises in patient access and patient engagement solutions, with a focus on the US healthcare industry.

Bringing education, innovation and industry together, students of the WIT are being afforded a unique opportunity with RelateCare: to gain real-world experience dealing with vulnerable patients in need of care, but doing so through technological solutions that allow this care to be delivered at a distance.

As a member of ARCH, RelateCare is committed to enhancing the presence and value of connected health solutions in Ireland. Often this means bringing knowledge and insights from connected health initiatives in the US back to the Irish healthcare system. The partnership with the WIT is one such initiative.

ARCH Guest Blog_RelateCare WIT

RelateCare partners with health systems who struggle to communicate effectively with patients as they move along their care journey. By offering communication solutions from when a patient first wishes to access care by scheduling an appointment, all the way to receiving a call from one of our nurses after being discharged to home, RelateCare increases patient access and ensures the patient is engaged in their health at all times.

For the past number of years, students from the WIT General Nursing program have been gaining invaluable experience as part of RelateCare’s Post-Discharge Program (1). The program delivers follow-up communications to patients across the world after they have been discharged from hospital. The program has already won awards (2), and been responsible for reducing the number of unnecessary readmissions at one of the world’s leading health systems, Cleveland Clinic (3).

And at a time when governments (4) across the world, Ireland included (5), are seeking ways to reduce the burden on over-crowded hospitals, this kind of innovative partnership is offering potential solutions.

“Having the students from the WIT make these calls has been a great success for all involved” says Conor O’Byrne, CEO RelateCare. “Their knowledge and integrity allows us to trust them to care for vulnerable patients, while also freeing up our qualified Registered Nurses to focus on the more high-risk cases. Plus they gain valuable experience in technology solutions that one day can be applied to Irish healthcare systems”.

Students, based in Waterford, contact patients 2-5 days following discharge to check for new or worsening symptoms, remind them of their discharge and medication instructions, and schedule a new appointment if necessary. If serious issues are present, the patient is immediately escalated to a qualified Registered Nurse.

The benefits to the students are significant as they get the chance to apply their theoretical knowledge to real-world situations. They develop the skills to comfort patients who are often distressed and overwhelmed, while also making sure escalations happen in a timely manner. This requires a mix of patience, respect, alertness, and care.

In addition to this patient-centered experience, the students are also being exposed to technological solutions that are not yet available in Ireland. Electronic Health Records (6) are a real-time digital record of a patient’s paper chart that make information available instantly and securely to authorised users. They can include a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, allergies, x-rays and test results.

EHRs allow patient health information to be created and managed in a digital format that can then be shared with other providers across more than one healthcare organisation. Research has shown that the introduction of EHR’s reduced medical error and hospitalisations by more than 50% in one US healthcare insurer (7).

By having access to EHRs, the students in Waterford can understand the patient’s medical history, medication programme, and treatment plan, which allows them to offer personalised outreach care.

Ireland has yet to universally adopt EHR technologies, however there are determined moves to introduce them in the next few years. Organisations such as ARCH are at the forefront of efforts to realise the potential of EHR’s and other connected health solutions.

Further, Richard Corbridge, CIO of the HSE, has been taking promising steps to ready Irish healthcare for an EHR system by 2019. For example, the Irish Haemophilia Society is a forerunner in its use of technology systems and has been using an electronic patient record system since 2008, and with much success.

While there are plans in place, there is still a distance to go before universal adoption. It is hoped the new National Children’s Hospital at St James’s Hospital will become the first publicly-funded hospital using EHR’s.

Once these adoptions become universal, those WIT students who have spent time with RelateCare will have a significant advantage in navigating these sophisticated technologies while delivering world-class care.

The students themselves are fully aware of the opportunity to learn and grow as more fully developed Nurses.

RelateCare Blog_Student Placment

Shannon Devitt (student at WIT), Conor O’Byrne (CEO RelateCare) and Sarah Walsh (student at WIT).

Joanne Claxton, a recent graduate from the BSc in Applied Healthcare, commented: “I saw how advanced American healthcare is in comparison to our own Irish system and how adopting electronic health record would greatly improve efficiencies and waiting times in Ireland.”

Niall Duggan, a current third year student also noticed the impact this could have in Ireland: “As students, we hear in the news all the time about huge waiting lists and lack of hospital bed. Since working here, I can’t help but think if the Irish Healthcare system could adopt some of the service RelateCare provide it would be a solution to many of these problems”.

Waterford Institute of Technology School of Health Sciences, the South East’s leading third level institution, has a rich tradition of training students for challenging work in the hospital, but this kind of telehealth solution presents a new kind of challenge by using technology to deliver healthcare at a distance. This compliments the WIT’s forward-looking approach to education and learning.

Frances Finn, Lecturer in Nursing and Healthcare, WIT, pointed to this growing relationship, “The expression of this close and successful working relationship is the establishment of the BSc in Applied Health Care which, as part of its programme content, has modules on Healthcare Informatics and Connected Health.  RelateCare provides an excellent learning experience for students on this programme in relation to many facets of connected health and we see further development of this programme in partnership with RelateCare as significant and exciting.”

Perhaps as Ireland moves towards the adoption of Electronic Health Records, RelateCare and WIT will be uniquely positioned to finally deliver on the promised benefits of technology for how we understand and deliver healthcare. So far, the partnership has been a great success and it looks set to continue growing and developing solutions to the problems in healthcare in Ireland, the USA and across the globe.

References

  1. RelateCare, RelateCare’s Post Discharge Follow Up Program, http://relatecare.com/services/clinical-wellness-programs, Accessed: 11/01/2017
  2. Fierce Innovation Awards 2016 Finalist, https://www.fierceinnovationawards.com/healthcare/2016, Accessed: 10/01/2017
  3. RelateCare Post Discharge Follow-Up Program Cleveland Clinic Case study, http://relatecare.com/project/cleveland-clinic-case-study, Accessed: 10/01/2017
  4. Kaplan, Robert and Porter, Michael, The Big Idea: How to Solve the Cost Crisis in Healthcare. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/09/how-to-solve-the-cost-crisis-in-health-care, Accessed: 11/01/2017
  5. Cullen, Paul. Broken: Ireland’s Ailing Health Service [Internet], The Irish Times, 5/09/15, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/broken-ireland-s-ailing-health-service-1.2340468, Accessed: 11/01/2017
  6. Ehealth Ireland, Electronic Health Record, http://www.ehealthireland.ie/Strategic-Programmes/Electronic-Health-Record-EHR-/, 10/01/2017
  7. Thompson, Sylvia, eHealth Ireland: We Can Learn from the Mistake from Others, The Irish Times [Internet]. http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/ehealth-in-ireland-we-can-learn-from-the-mistakes-of-others-1.2712338, 10/01/2017

You can contact Robert at rgrant@relatecare.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Applied Research for Connected Health or UCD. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.