Award-Winning scientist uses innovative Canadian telephony technology to improve health care

July 18, 2007

As one strategy to improve patient care, Dr. Alan Forster of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute has been researching post-discharged patients, as these patients represent a high-risk group with respect to complications developing after leaving hospital. As telephone follow-up is one method of monitoring patients, Dr. Forster wanted to find out if an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) could improve the effectiveness of patient follow-up.

Knowing of their expertise in innovative telephony solutions, he asked Vocantas to develop a system that would increase the efficiency of contacting patients by telephone so that adverse events could be identified early and reduced or eliminated. Vocantas responded with the development of CallAssure™, a US patent-pending IVRS designed to improve post-discharged patient care.

Dr. Forster ran a number of clinical trials using CallAssure to examine its usefulness in monitoring post-discharged patients at The Ottawa Hospital. In the most recent trial, which was published by the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, the call dialogue was carefully designed to administer a simple survey via the automated system 48 hours after discharge. The survey’s objective was to triage and identify all patients with new health problems—without adding work to the highly skilled healthcare staff. These patients were quickly assessed by CallAssure and then telephoned by a nurse to clarify and address the problem. CallAssure provided additional value as detailed statistics from patient responses were automatically and securely integrated with the hospital database enabling Dr. Forster and his team to easily access a number of reports for analysis and audit trail.

This trial highlighted two important findings. First, the efficiency of using CallAssure suggests it can be used to improve quality of care without a significant impact on workflow. The system made 357 calls to reach patients while clinical nurses needed to contact only 20 patients who actually required attention. This fact is particularly important given a healthcare system which is afflicted with chronic human resource shortages. Second, although there are only a small proportion of patients who require a call, many of these can benefit from telephone contact with a trained health professional. Of the small number of patients that did require nurse intervention, 50% had issues that could have become serious had there been no follow-up. This finding suggests that with relatively small investments for this technology, hospitals could have a significant impact in improving patient outcomes.

Dr. Forster is also evaluating the use of CallAssure in other contexts. One study involves providing appointment reminders and medication dosage updates to patients with chronic blood clotting conditions. Patients involved in the study, including Ms. Dianna Siteman of Navan Ontario, have reacted positively. “I think it is a great system that could benefit a lot of people,” she said. “It really helps to be reminded of my appointments and I get my follow-up results much faster than I used to.”

Future studies, funded by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, should help to further define the benefits of the technology. When this work was performed, Dr. Forster held the PSI Foundation Scholarship in Innovative Health Services Research. He now holds an Ontario Ministry of Health Career Scientist Award.

Media contacts:

Gary T. Hannah, President & CEO
Vocantas Inc.

Jennifer Paterson
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
613-798-5555 x 19691

About Dr. Forster

Dr. Forster is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, an Internal Medicine Specialist at The Ottawa Hospital and a Scientist in the Clinical Epidemiology Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, where his research focuses on patient safety and quality improvement. Dr. Forster holds a medical degree with specialization in internal medicine, as well as a Master of Science degree in Epidemiology. He performed his research fellowship at Harvard Medical School, where he worked with Dr. David Bates.

His major research activities are in the area of health services research. This is the study of how health care is actually delivered with the goal of improving health care. Within this field, Dr. Forster focuses upon hospital quality of care and patient safety. He conducts studies evaluating the incidence of adverse events following discharge from hospital. This work should lead to the development of strategies to improve care during the transition home from hospital. He is interested in the use of hospital clinical and administrative data to monitor and prevent adverse events, as well as to measure hospital quality. Dr. Forster has also conducted several studies evaluating the effect of hospital occupancy on several indicators of quality of care using hospital administrative databases.

About Vocantas

Vocantas Inc. delivers Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solutions to customer service and healthcare verticals. By adopting Vocantas solutions, organizations realize lower costs and significantly increased operational efficiencies resulting in proven, superior customer service. With over a decade of experience, Vocantas is innovative in developing natural sounding speech technology tools that use a combination of advanced computer telephony and speech technologies. These easy-to-use, turnkey solutions offer customizable core features and optional enhancements which have had 100% success in integrating seamlessly with existing systems. Some key benefactors of these interactive telephony solutions include post-discharged patients who can be monitored effectively at home and customers of Utilities companies.