As visitor restrictions took hold within hospitals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, communication between patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and their loved ones became a challenge for hospital staff.
Two Cisco partners, Taleka and Citrus Solutions, collaborated to develop a video and collaboration tool called HowRU.
The aim of HowRU was to make it simple and secure to use across all touch points with patients, their families and, importantly, hospital staff, who were often using their own personal devices to connect patients to their loved ones.
In the situation with Wollongong Hospital, it ventured into exploring various virtual ‘off the shelf’ communications platforms, but as Wollongong Hospital intensive care advanced trainee, Dr Kathleen Thomas discovered, most platforms were designed for two able-bodied people who are conscious, and who can use their own devices to connect.
In the ICU set-up, there are often patients that are unconscious or critically unwell, therefore unable to operate a device or the intricacies of connecting to a communications service.
Plus the hospital wanted a system that wouldn’t impact on nursing or medical staff ability to provide patient care, and security was also a factor.
In developing the customised HowRU platform, which is based on Cisco Webex, Taleka approached Citrus to develop an automation component, making it user-friendly for any person to operate — making it a two touch process on an iPad-like device. The solution took about four months from the consultation to implementation stage.
One of the automation tools enables quickly creating an account, also giving a high priority to security.
Citrus managing director Peter Papaioannou explained that the company wanted HowRU to be a ‘patient’ central system, rather than telehealth, which is very much designed for a very different task — from the doctor perspective, rather than the patient communicating to family.
Papaioannou said Citrus conducted a bunch of automation tasks with Webex APIs and worked in partnership with Wollongong Hospital to ensure the workflow was right.
“Staff were using their own personal devices, or Facebook accounts, and so we’ve created this workflow, working really closely with Taleka to get the human element of how this would work, how the nurses would interact and what their role is, so when a family member or patient logs on, they don’t have to think twice about getting access to the service,” he said.
Taleka created the video, self help guides, and infographics so nurses know what to do, along with training all their ‘champions’ — which can be either social workers or nurse administrators.
Since implementing HowRU for Wollongong Hospital, Papaioannou noted that other hospitals had taken notice and, as a result of that deployment, it was also working with Shoalhaven Hospital.
Papaioannou said as soon as it finished training the first ‘champion’ at Shoalhaven, one patient was already connecting with family in the UK.
“That’s something we pride ourselves on,” he said. “Cisco has also been a very important partner because without all the APIs and openness of their platform, we couldn’t hide all this behind the scenes.”
Papaioannou said it was also considering other use cases for HowRU beyond the ICU environment and into areas such as pastoral care.
As a result of the work around HowRU, Papaioannou said it was also looking towards delving further into partner-to-partner collaboration opportunities.
“The customer can buy HowRU as a turnkey solution from us because of our commercial go-to-market strategy, and Taleka sits behind us in providing their value-add. It’s done in a seamless way and we found a model that works,” he said. “This is really the partner model of the future, because one partner can’t be the best at everything.
“We’re a small organisation, we want to be lean and have a focus on areas we specialise in, and also have an open go-to-market on how we engage our customers and also engage third party partners to help each other scale,” he added.
Taleka Asia Pacific director Tracey Kingston, added that the company's own motto and core values were centred on ‘people first, technology second'.
“You can have the best technology, but if you don’t focus on the people that are going to use it, and the processes, workflows and a tailored education piece, then it’s not going to be successful,” she said. “Wollongong Hospital contacted us at the start of COVID with their problem to work out what was involved, designing a solution and who it could engage with that had the skills to help out.
“We worked out what their needs and requirements were before bringing in Cisco and Citrus to work with the customer and build a unique, tailored solution.”
Kingston said it was also in discussions with other health providers and other Cisco partners that really specialise in the health sector.
“We can really add value to other partner offerings too,” she said. “We’re already talking to hospitals in other regions and also looking at the potential of expanding this into areas like aged care.”