IT Hero Awards: IVR system helps Ottawa hospital unclog thrombosis backlog

It was one of the most unusual calls that Gary Hannah, ever received.

The president and CEO of Vocantas Inc., an interactive voice recognition (IVR) systems developer based in Ottawa was working in his office when a man named Ron called to say: “You don’t know me, but I’d like to thank you because your system saved my life”.

The caller was one of the thrombosis sufferers who have signed up for a trial project at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) where Vocantas recently deployed its CallAssure IVR system which automatically contacts patients on their phones or computers to inform them about medication dosage changes.

Thrombosis sufferers need to follow a strict regimen that includes taking a blood-thinning medication popularly known as warfarin. Patients periodically go to the hospital to have their blood checked to determine if the dosage should be changed.

It often takes more than half the day for the test results to be available. Healthcare workers call the patients at home to relay the results and inform them of any dosage changes.

However, depending on the amount of workload at the hospital and the patient’s own personal schedule, it typically takes a day for the information to be received and acted on. Some patients end up being given the wrong information. Missed medication of improper dosage can cause dizziness and nausea but in some cases it could also be fatal.

Improving dosage accuracy

Before the automated IVR system deployment, an average of 50 per cent of the patients received the proper dosage information. CallAssure helped the hospital bumped the average to 80 per cent, says Hannah.

With the system automatically reading the blood test results and calling the patients, workload at the hospital has been cut by 33 per cent. Bottlenecks which usually occur in the weekends when staff are few and patients are not at home to receive calls, have been drastically reduced.

CallAssure is among the newer breed of IVR tools that go beyond the rigid touch-tone systems that over a decade old. Vocantas’ system is also being used to track pandemics.

The Ottawa-based Vocantas is among several Canadian companies that were nominated for the 9th Annual ITAC IT Hero Awards presented by Intel.

The awards, which will be presented at the annual ITAC (Information technology Association of Canada) Chair’s Dinner on June 23, celebrate and recognize the creative application of information technology that significantly improves the lives of Canadians and demonstrates social and economic benefits.

ITWorldCanada will be featuring other IT Hero awardees in the lead up to the awards presentation.

The IT Hero Awards program was developed in 2001 by ITAC in partnership with Industry Canada. There are two categories of award:

• The Community IT Hero Award, sponsored by Innovapost, recognizes an individual, group or not-for-profit organization that is able to creative use IT to improve the lives of Canadians

• The Corporate IT Hero Awards, for which Vocantas was nominated for, recognizes a for-profit public or privately owned business that is able to creatively use IT to improve the lives of Canadians

Post discharge accountability

Many hospitals are also seeking solutions that will reduce nurse workloads while ensuring that patients receive the necessary follow-up care and attention. New accountability regulations across North America will also hold medical establishments accountable for post-discharge adverse patient events.

As many as one-fifth of patients discharged from a hospital or managed care facility experience adverse events caused by drug effects, infection or therapeutic errors.

Patients taking warfarin have to be within an individualized dosage range.

“If the dose exceeds a safe range, people are at risk of bleeding, and if the dose drops below range, then patients can be predisposed to blood clotting,” according to Dr. Alan Forster of the Ottawa Health Research Institute.

Forster is using Vocantas’ deployment of CallAssure to study the positive impact that an automated telephone follow-up and patient monitoring system can have on post-discharged patients.

The system developed by Vocantas streamlines the data interpretation and delivery process. Based on pre-determined benchmarks and computer algorithms, the system now in place at OHRI can determine the right dose, Hannah of Vocantas said.

Test results from the lab are entered into the computer system which contains data about previous results. The system uses this data to determine what the next dose should be. Automation reduces the chances of human error in data interpretation and matching of patient and dosage instruction.

“From here the IVR system takes over. It reads the data and automatically calls the patient’s phone number and relays the message in audio form,” said Hannah.

The system is programmed to call a number three times before leaving a message on the patient’s answering machine. The system also detects cases that may fall outside previously set benchmarks.

In such cases, the system alerts the pharmacist who then double-checks the recommendations before instructions are sent out.

Also read: IT Hero Awards: IVR system helps Ottawa hospital unclog thrombosis backlog

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