Sarah Khavandi, AI Research Clinician at Ufonia, shares how Dora, their AI-enabled clinical conversational voice assistant helps address workforce shortage issues and their recent SBRI Net Zero award work, which models and collects real world evidence of Dora’s carbon footprint.
Healthcare systems worldwide are under pressures that are insurmountable with the current workforce capacity. These pressures are rising due to an ageing population and an increase in chronic conditions that has been pushed to extremes after the pandemic.
Here in the UK, the NHS is the largest employer with 1.2 million full-time equivalent staff. Yet still, the NHS is under significant strains due to workforce shortages across all staffing groups in the health and care system. This is impacting the quality of patient care directly as well as contributing to a workforce crisis leading to unprecedented burnout among clinical staff. We see this reflected globally with the World Health Organisation estimating a projected shortfall of 15 million health workers by 2030 which poses a significant threat to patient populations around the world.
Front line staff are a scarce resource, yet they spend a significant time conducting clinical activity that is highly stereotyped and doesn’t enable them to work ‘at the top of their licence’. This is particularly prominent in high volume and low complexity pathways where work can become repetitive and clinicians find themselves spending hours of their days calling patients to ask them simple, routine questions.
Ufonia believes it is possible to address this issue by automating routine clinical interactions.
Ufonia was born out of clinicians wanting to perform at the top of their licence and to deliver outstanding quality of care to as many people as possible. By thinking beyond what is humanly possible, our first product Dora was developed to automate routine clinical conversations to increase the capacity of providers whilst improving accessibility for patients.
Dora is the first UKCA-marked AI-enabled clinical conversational voice assistant. Dora uses speech transcription, natural language understanding, speech generation, and a machine-learning conversation model to enable contextual conversations.
What this means for patients is accessible healthcare anytime, anywhere via a telephone call. Anyone who is able to receive a telemedicine follow up appointment is able to receive a Dora call that is simple to use and can take place at their own pace and convenience. Dora will call them on the phone and have a conversation about their health, with no app, smartphone or even an internet connection required. This is particularly important for the more digitally disenfranchised populations that use healthcare services.
Impact and Net Zero
Our first use case has been automating postoperative follow-up of cataract surgery patients and Dora has been able to reduce up to 70% of the work for clinicians. Dora has received high user satisfaction rates, with our recent study showing users giving it a mean net promoter score of 9/10.
So what are the implications? Well for cataract surgery alone, the potential for freeing up clinical capacity is huge as it is the most common elective operation performed worldwide, with over 450,000 operations undertaken annually in the UK. Demonstrating our success in this pathway has led to high demand from NHS Trusts across England and further afield in Europe and North America. We work closely with healthcare providers around the world to build a suite of automated clinical conversations in a range of high-volume, low-complexity pathways. In the UK alone, 13 Hospitals have signed up to use Dora, whilst further afield Dora’s multilingual feature is being put to use.
Beyond workforce challenges, at Ufonia we recognise that the climate emergency poses one of the greatest public health threats in this century. With over 100 million face-to-face out-patient consultations being undertaken in the UK per year, these consultations contribute significantly to the carbon footprint of the NHS through patient and staff travel, activities, products and resources used. Dora contributes to the triple bottom line through automating remote consultations by helping meet the rising demand and costs of healthcare whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Thanks to the SBRI Net Zero award we have been able to work with The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, to model and collect real world evidence of Dora’s impact on the carbon footprint of a Head & Neck (H&N) triage pathway. Over a million referrals are made to such services by GPs annually and preliminary carbon-footprint modelling prior to our pilot shows that Ufonia’s technology could reduce the carbon-footprint of a H&N cancer consultation by 120x. If translatable to real-world applications, the reduced face-to-face consultations enabled could save up to 78 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) annually in the region, and up to 10,000 tonnes CO2e if rolled out across the UK.
How to get involved
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Ufonia is part of the sixth cohort of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.
The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners and the Health Innovation Network, MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.