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Interview: Wendy Blumenow on the benefits of the Isla remote monitoring platform at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital Trust

For our latest interview, HTN caught up with Wendy Blumenow, senior specialist speech and language therapist and senior clinical innovation consultant at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital Trust. Wendy shared with us some of her insights from utilising the Isla platform to empower patients and improve information sharing amongst colleagues within her area of speech and language therapy.

To begin our chat with Wendy, we asked her to tell us a little bit about her role and background at Alder Hey. Wendy has been a speech and language therapist for 30 years, and more recently, has supported the trust as senior clinical innovation consultant. She first became involved during the pandemic after submitting a clinical problem to the innovation team and shared that she “got hooked” through the experience, leading to her taking on this role for one day per week.

Clinical perspective is important within the innovation team, she noted. “We each have our value, and we bring something different to the table; having a clinical input is really essential”.

Isla at Alder Hey

Wendy described how Isla has been working to help Alder Hey in enhancing patient care with their secure platform for the capture, storage and sharing of photos, videos and structured assessment forms. Piloted in specialties including speech and language, ophthalmology and acute and community physiotherapy, the solution has been used to facilitate patient monitoring and digitise assessment forms and pre- and post-operative monitoring.

Results from the pilot at Alder Hey have demonstrated a time saving of around 15 minutes of administrative time per patient in acute physiotherapy; whilst in community physiotherapy, the platform has helped to reduce the time taken to access information for complex patients.

For paediatric patients, images are collected via a link which can be sent by a text message to a parent or guardian’s phone, requiring patient identity to be verified before consented images, videos and forms can be submitted back to the trust for clinical review.

Wendy explained that the project represents a collaboration between the trust and Isla stemming from clinical problems. “That’s how we work as an innovation service. We’re problem-solvers,” she said.

Around the implementation of the platform, Wendy shared that she has a dual role: one as a clinician using it, offering advice on how it is working and what is needed as clinicians, and a second from an innovation perspective, thinking about the benefits and what can be done to maximise them.

Wendy acknowledged that engagement can be a challenge, pointing out that a common problem with new platforms lies in getting people to use it enough for it to feel natural to them. “I always encourage my colleagues to keep going, because I know it is worth it – I’ve used it a lot, I can click through very quickly, I know exactly where I need to go,” she said. “There are others who use it even more than me, and they’ve collected some fantastic data to support the fact that it’s working to reduce readmissions and reduce infection rates.”

Once people start using Isla more, Wendy said that it quickly becomes obvious what the benefits of the platform are. “I think as soon as clinicians start using it, they suddenly realise: how did I manage not using this?”

She shared an example from speech and language therapy; if the therapist is undertaking feeding assessments but the child is asleep, they cannot complete the assessment. Similarly, if a colleague is trying to complete a speech assessment but the child refuses to speak, the task cannot be completed. With the Isla platform, however, parents or guardians can submit videos that can be used for these assessments.

We also heard from Iain Hennessey, clinical director and co-founder at Alder Hey Innovation Centre; he commented that using technology to help families “lead more normal lives is one of our key goals”, and stated: “The partnership with Isla Health has been fantastic in exploring the future of remote care.”

Isla for enhancing multi-disciplinary team working

On Isla’s benefits for multi-disciplinary team working, Wendy talked about the functionality around controlling visibility.

“When you create a submission, you create it either as an individual or as a team, so you can control who gets to see it,” she said. For example, a child feeding assessment only needs to be viewed by the therapist working with that child. On the other hand, a team of surgeons, orthodontists and speech therapists may need to view footage of a child completing jaw stretches, as they need to ensure that the child is doing it correctly in order to avoid the risk of reinforcing the wrong movement.

On how Isla facilitates this, and how the video submissions can be helpful in monitoring patient progress, Wendy explained that they can help different members of the team to view different elements of progress.

“Where the team need to be able to view submissions, I can set them up so that the relevant team has access to it,” she said. “I can include a note to inform them that the patient has submitted a fresh video, and to let me know if we need to make any changes.”

What do other members of the Alder Hey team think of Isla’s benefits when it comes to collaboration? Megan Foden, junior innovation consultant at Alder Hey Innovation Centre, said that the collaboration with Isla “exemplifies the fruitful partnerships we foster with industry. Co-creating with our partners allows us to embrace curiosity, experimentation, and creativity to find efficient solutions for problems experienced by not just staff, but our children and young people too.”

She continued: “It is easy to be proud to witness the transformative potential of technology in revolutionising paediatric care. Together, we’re stepping into a new era of healthcare, filled with exciting opportunities to better serve children and young people.”

Looking ahead

Wendy highlighted that she feels “hugely privileged” to “have the backing of a trust that put their money where their mouth is with innovation and new systems to improve patient care”, especially in utilising this kind of remote monitoring platform with paediatric patients, who are often an under-explored patient group within this domain.

“The innovation team is growing all the time, and we have absolute backing from the trust,” she said. “It is in the trust’s core values that we innovate; and if we can help or inspire other trusts to do similar, that’s amazing.” She shared that they are already in communication with another trust looking to discuss the potential of utilising Isla with their commissioners.

We asked Wendy what advice she would give to someone looking to implement this platform in their own trust or organisation. She shared: “Go for it, one hundred percent. Whatever you put into it, you will get out of it.”

She also raised the need to ensure that you have a clear idea of what you want from the outset; and that you are clear on what you are asking of patients. You will need to be prepared to set aside time to look through submissions, she noted, but it will impact on your waiting list and there will be a reduction in the frequency when it comes to reviewing patients. “Even if you’re still having to review, you’re prioritising,” she added. “I think you’re a better clinician by doing that.”

Wendy has learned through the process; she shared a particular tip around the right time to send links through to patients to maximise submissions. At the beginning, she would send the links through whilst patients were there in the room with her, but this meant that they would open the message in that moment. As such, when they got home, they would not have the notification of a new message. Now, Wendy waits for a short period of time before sending the link in order to make the most of that notification for engagement purposes.

Wendy also commented on some of the ways that she hoped the use of the platform would be developed in the coming months, such as comparing and contrasting different time points and increasing the use of data in monitoring progress.

“The automated pathway is just being rolled out, which means that if a referral letter comes into plastics, it will highlight keywords,” she said. If a keyword such as ‘lesion’ or ‘lump’ is included, patients will automatically be sent a link asking them to provide a photograph to help in triaging their referral. “I’d like to see that expanded into all specialties, so that we can see all new referrals with media attached that essentially identifies the problem for us.”

We’d like to thank Wendy for taking the time to chat to us about her experience and insights from using the Isla platform.

To learn more about Isla, please click here.