Telstra and Gold Coast Health: delivering virtual care
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented healthcare companies around the world with an unprecedented challenge, as traditional methods of delivering care to patients have buckled under the strain. For Jamie Spencer, Regional General Manager, Business Development at Telstra Health, the effect of the pandemic was largely to expose a problem that was already there.
“Healthcare spending in relation to GDP is rising throughout most developed countries. And it can't continue at the rate that it is,” he explains. “The popular conception is that the traditional, centralised hospital model should be able to provide services to everyone, but the reality is that we're going to hit a crunch point, and it’s a lot closer than we think.”
In the same way that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transfromations in other industries, so too has it provoked a radical leap forward in terms of healthcare providers reevaluating their models. “The industry needs to look differently at the ways in which hospitals provide care, and how to do things differently so that people still have access to the care they need,” Spencer says. “COVID-19 has definitely started to normalise the idea of connecting digitally. It's given people the opportunity to access care in a way that they never had before, and it’s probably pushed us forward by about 10 to 15 years. ”
Founded in 2013, Telstra Health is Telstra Health works to improve lives by delivering digitally-enabled care to communities by supplying innovative digital solutions to governments and healthcare providers throughout Australia.
Telstra Health was chosen as a key partner of Gold Coast Health Services, providing their virtual health consultation platform as a way to deliver patient care remotely. “Traditionally, you might go to see a specialist at a hospital and, after a five minute conversation, be sent home,” Spencer says. “Someone living in rural Queensland might drive for up to four to six hours for that five minute appointment. Now, rather than people having to make those long journeys to see a specialist, we can provide that consultation to people in their own homes, in a way that leads to a richer conversation, which results in better feedback and, ultimately, a better standard of care.”
Telstra’s virtual care technology adopts a twofold approach. First, using Bluetooth connected devices, clinicians can monitor patients’ blood pressure, pulse oximetry, temperature and weight remotely. “It’s a basic spectrum of things that we're monitoring, but if you do those basic things well, then the positive impact can be huge,” explains Spencer, adding that these baseline metrics are then combined with a virtual appointment in which the clinician can follow up with the patient to discuss and provide results. “We've found that our service has helped to dramatically reduce readmission rates, and enabled early discharge, which means that patients get to be at home sooner,” enthuses Spencer, who also notes that, “The overarching monitoring aspect can also help people who need readmission get back into hospital sooner, which can make a huge difference in some cases.”
Spencer, who works closely with Sandip Kumar, Gold Coast Health’s Executive Director of Transformation and Digital, emphasises that the relationship between Telstra and Gold Coast is far more than that of vendor and client. “We’re looking for a real partner, not just a customer,” he explains. “I think it's really important that we continue to grow through our partnerships. That means working closely with the likes of Gold Coast University Hospital to develop our product in a way that we know meets their needs. All good partnerships are based on trust, and we're working to build that trust with Gold Coast Health.”
Amazon tests new technology to improve employee safety
At the Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Boston, and Northern Italy, team members are testing and developing new technologies in order to help to make employees’ jobs safer, these include technologies that help move carts and packages through Amazon facilities.
Recently the safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.
A spokesperson from Amazon said the company spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.
One innovation being tested by Amazon, which is in early development, is the use of motion-capture technology to assess the movement of volunteer employees in a lab setting. These employees perform tasks that are common in many Amazon facilities, such as the movement of totes, which carry products through robotic fulfillment centers.
The motion-capture software enables Amazon scientists and researchers to more accurately compare data captured in a lab environment to industry standards rather than other modelling tools traditionally used by ergonomists.
“With this data, visualisations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,” said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon. “Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.”
Autonomous Robots creating new paths to safety
In order to reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, Amazon is testing a new workstation system called “Ernie.” According to the company Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees, so they can remain in a more comfortable and stable position.
“We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day,” said Keck. “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”
“Bert” is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and is being tested to autonomously navigate through facilities with Amazon-developed advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology. In the future, it is thought that an employee would be able to summon Bert to carry items across a facility.
‘Scooter’ and ‘Kermit’ are two other robots that also operate autonomously, and are both transport cars. The carts are used to carry empty totes and packages through our facilities.
In a blog post the company said: ‘By having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, we believe we can make our facilities safer and enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGC like Scooter to pull carts through our facilities reduces the risk of strains on our employees, or even collisions. We currently plan to deploy Scooter to at least one Amazon facility this year.’
Amazon began using robotics in its facilities in 2012, and since then they have added more than 1 million jobs worldwide while simultaneously deploying 350,000 mobile drive unit robots.
“The role robotics and advanced technology can play in not only innovating for customers, but helping make our facilities safer, is a massive motivation for me and my team,” said Keck. “The health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. By listening to them, innovating on their behalf, and driving new technologies into our facilities over the coming months and years, I’m confident we’ll make a big contribution to our goal of reducing recordable incidents by 50% by 2025.”