How an interactive app is helping Saskatchewan surgeons face the pandemic
During a pandemic, a physician’s biggest risk is exposure. When health professionals are exposed to COVID-19, this can result in a loss of manpower, health service disruptions or even a need to close a health care facility. Risk of exposure means it is critical that correct protocols and procedures are followed to ensure the safety of everyone in a medical setting. However, these protocols and procedures to mitigate risk change as our knowledge of the virus evolves. How do physicians stay on top of the latest updates to keep themselves and their patients safe?
A collaborative research team from the University of Saskatchewan, supported by a grant from Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, has come up with a solution through the development of a mobile application.
The app, called Inventory, has three components. First, the app tracks manpower. If a surgeon is exposed to the virus and unable to work, they can update their status within the secure app, letting colleagues around the province know who is available. This helps determine if there is a shortage of available surgeons in one area of the province and a need to deploy the appropriate support. With over 250 surgeons in the province and different specialists on call at different times, this app can provide the information needed to improve communication, decision-making and care outcomes for patients.
Another feature of the app are the algorithms that guide the decision-making process for the proper procedures to follow for COVID versus non-COVID patient. These algorithms are able to be updated and shared in real-time. That means as our knowledge of best practices and proper procedures change, surgeons are receive the correct information directly to their smartphones.
Finally, the app provides information about areas of increased COVID activity in the province. Without a detailed knowledge of Saskatchewan’s vast rural geography, it is hard to know where patients are coming from. With the app, the surgeon can quickly and easily access an interactive map and have the information needed to know the risk of exposure a patient may have had. This is critical information for quick and accurate decision making, especially when facing emergency situations.
The team behind the app is Mayra Samaniego, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science and Research Assistant at the Department of Surgery of the University of Saskatchewan; Dr. Ivar Mendez, Provincial Head of the Department of Surgery at the University of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Health Authority; Luis Bustamante, Robotic Engineer Coordinator of the Department of Surgery of the University of Saskatchewan; and Christian Spana, CEO of AllpaTech, computer expert, and full-stack software developer.
“I believe research collaborations among private companies and universities provide valuable contributions to society, especially in bringing together the medical and tech world, as we have done with Inventory,” says Spana.
The app, unique to the province of Saskatchewan and to surgery departments across Canada, goes beyond collecting information about the pandemic for screening purposes or data analysis. Inventory is providing surgeons with information in real time to face the pandemic and improve outcomes and efficiencies in health care. There has already been national and international interest in using Inventory in other jurisdictions.
“We designed the app to face this pandemic, however, Inventory is adaptable, connecting doctors to the information they need, when they need it to face future situations,” says Samaniego. “This is the power of communication in real time.”
The surgery room is not exclusive to surgeon and patient. The future of this app could provide other medical staff with the information they need to improve safety and efficiencies specific to their role in health care. Beyond the pandemic, this app also opens up potential for health professionals in the field and physicians in rural communities across Saskatchewan. With an up-to-date inventory of specialists on call, the potential for real-time and improved communications can mean improved decision making for patients in the province.
“One of the difficulties we face in medicine is how physicians communicate with each other, from family doctors to specialists, for example. There is often a gap in communication,” comments Mendez.
Communicating in a platform that is secure, that has relevant, evidence-based information and that is updated in real time improves consistency across the province when it comes to following procedures and protocols.
“The pandemic has opened the door to a new way of communicating and Inventory is the tool for the job,” says Mendez. “That is why Inventory has been successful so far. It has filled that gap and I think that is where the potential lies beyond the pandemic.”