Research honour for WA Health clinicians

Director of Research at Royal Perth Hospital’s Department of Anaesthesia Tomas Corcoran and Fremantle Hospital anaesthetist Ed O’Loughlin are half of a research team that has won the Journal of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care’s “Best Paper Award” for 2012.

Professor Guy Ludbrook and Cliff Grant from South Australia Health make up the other half of the research team who were recently presented the award at the Australian Society of Anaesthetists’ national scientific congress in Canberra.

The paper reported on their Department of Health-funded study that compared traditional means of assessing elective surgery patients prior to surgery with an alternative model based on non-clinical staff using call centre tools.

In the alternative approach, non-clinical personnel conduct a comprehensive assessment of the patient over the telephone, guided by a computerised questionnaire that generates questions based on the patient’s previous answers.

The research could provide greater convenience for patients and pave the way for a more efficient system of assessing patients prior to surgery; freeing up anaesthetists’ time and reducing direct and indirect costs associated with traditional assessment practices.

Professor Corcoran highlighted that ,though not appropriate for all types of patients, the call centre approach has the potential to provide direct savings of around $155 per patient without compromising patient safety, possibly even improving it.

“For a system such as WA Health which, in the last financial year performed more than 80,000 elective procedures, this would translate into a saving of at least $5 million a year,” Professor Corocan said.

“Safeguards have been built into the program that alert lay and health staff to any potential problems and the results of the computerised questionnaire will be reviewed by senior clinicians to ensure that any outstanding health issues or unresolved questions can be further interrogated.

“The model can minimise unnecessary cancellations and provide clinical staff with remote 24/7 access to anaesthesia records.

“It can also guide us in ordering laboratory tests, scheduling surgery, and matching patients and the surgical complexity of their cases to the grade of medical staff and level of facility.

The automated algorithm on which the alternative model relies, was developed using the clinical opinions of nearly 60 consultant anaesthetists from Western Australia and South Australia.

Following this preliminary phase of the study, the researchers have secured further funding to perform a limited pilot of the new model in Western Australia which is due to begin soon.