Celebrating Sustainable Health and Social Care Week

When solving one problem can also resolve another


When Ultramed founders, Dr Paul Upton and Alan Sanders, met travelling back to Cornwall a few years ago, thoughts of creating a business that would have a significant impact on environmental impact of healthcare was not at the forefront of their minds.

Their conversation began over a yachting magazine, where they discovered their mutual interest in boats and sailing.  Somewhere in southern England, Paul shared his vision of an online assessment tool that would reduce the need for patients waiting for operations to visit the hospital for a face to face health review.  Alan, owner of a highly successful graphic design business, could see the potential for this idea, so they kept in touch, further explored and developed an online preop assessment.

Positive outcomes

Some three years on, the programmes have been developed, tested and are now being trialled in 5 hospitals throughout the UK.  Feedback is positive, with patients appreciating the option of carrying out their assessment at a time and place to suit themselves.  Clinicians report they’re able to make better use of their clinic time and space to focus on more complex patients.  In addition, this system is improving patient flow through pre-op assessment, thereby helping to fill theatre lists and reducing breaches of Referral to Treatment time.

As the trials have progressed however, some additional benefits have arisen that make the process more attractive not only to the healthcare community but to the wider population. 

Unexpected benefits

Each Trust has been able to implement MyPreOp in a way to suit their workflow which has resulted in some providing a ‘one-stop shop’ so that patients visit their Consultant and are pre-assessed at the same visit.  Others prefer to send out a link to the programme by post or email, so the assessment can be undertaken remotely and submitted electronically.

Early feedback indicates that this has led to a reduction in patient journeys to hospital, resulting in less traffic on the roads and thus lower pollution levels.  There is also decreased pressure on car parking which is frequently an issue on hospital sites.

One Trust alone estimates a reduction in patient journeys of around 70%, which equates to 832 fewer journeys over a three-month period.  This is the equivalent of 19,968kg CO2, or the amount of carbon 190 mature trees could absorb in a year!

In addition, anecdotal evidence indicates that Pre-Op assessment units are being used more effectively with space optimised to review more complex patients.  Thus, it’s possible that in due course, less space may be needed to run the service whilst also allowing for more patients to be reviewed.  With space often at a premium on hospital sites, incurring charges for cleaning, heating, lighting and maintenance, this could offer options to reduce the footprint of pre-op assessment clinics, providing much needed clinical space for other uses or for disposal.

So, an idea that was born out of a clinical need to resolve bottlenecks in the pre-assessment process has had the unexpected outcome that it supports a more sustainable and environmentally friendly healthcare system.  At a time when the NHS is being tasked with reducing overheads and carbon emissions, opportunities to reduce patient travel and improve flow through pre-assessment would seem to offer an easy solution for healthcare providers.

As the NHS Sustainable Development Unit ‘Fit for the Future – Scenarios for the low-carbon healthcare 2030’ states: ‘This report argues that a low-carbon NHS is a more efficient NHS, and that if the service is to provide the best possible quality of healthcare in the future, it must build both its efforts to mitigate climate change and its resilience to that change.’

It looks like Ultramed have tapped into a previously unexploited means of tackling climate change and environmental pollution.

- Gill Pipkin

Improving healthcare in remote areas

Imagine for a moment that you live a considerable distance from your nearest acute hospital.  Maybe you don’t have to imagine, maybe this is reality for you.  Millions of people all over the world live several hours from their local hospital.  Even in the UK, inhabitants of more rural areas and some island communities may face long journeys, sometimes by sea or air, to reach their main hospital.

What happens when they are faced with needing an operation or procedure?  Long and expensive trips may be needed to meet with their Consultant, and sometimes subsequent journeys to gather background information and undertake tests to assess their suitability for the procedure.

In the UK, we are, fortunate enough to have relatively good transport links, and where patients are unable to travel to the hospital independently, they can usually rely on a patient transport network.  But how about those in less well-developed parts of the world where poor transport infrastructure could mean walking many miles, or uncomfortable journeys over pot-holed dirt roads?

Since the development of MyPreOp, some of the keenest interest has come from health care providers trying to provide quality care to communities spread over many hundreds of miles.  From African hospitals whose patients may be many hundreds of miles away, to island groups where the only access is by boat, or mountain communities facing difficult journeys on precipitous tracks, MyPreOp offers the potential to gather information without the need to access the hospital in person.

With so much of the world linked by the internet, and ownership of smart phones and computers almost universal, collecting patient information and managing the health of people in remote communities should become easier and less expensive.

Rural communities often have visiting health professionals who can undertake required tests such as height, weight and blood pressure.  They may even be able to diagnose and recommend treatment, carry out more complex testing and double check the information entered into MyPreOp is accurate and provides a clear reflection of the individuals current state of health.

This could mean the only time a patient has to travel to hospital is when they are scheduled to have their operation, which is clearly far less stressful for the individual concerned and reduces the pressure on hospital services and transport systems.

But in our green and pleasant land, surely no one is more than a short drive from their local hospital?  Whilst many, particularly in the built up south-east, do have relatively easy access, there are lots of very rural and isolated locations without access to public transport for whom trips to hospital are a logistical nightmare.

In our own region, we have the Scilly Isles where residents are reliant on a long ferry crossing or a flight that may be cancelled due to weather conditions.  The same is true for many of the island groups off the coast of Scotland, areas where communities can be cut off for long periods due to high winds and rough seas. 

The middle of Wales, the highlands of Scotland and many of our rural counties are sparsely populated, thus the main hospital can mean a long journey and with restricted public transport, travelling to and from a hospital appointment in one day can be impossible.

Whilst many e-health solutions have been devised with clinical needs in mind, some are also enabling residents in these remote communities to access healthcare more easily.  The Ultraprep range of products, where the link can be emailed through to the patient wherever they are, ensures  patients needing to be operated on, won’t face delays to their treatment due to problems obtaining an up to date and accurate preoperative assessment. 

In future, living remotely won’t automatically create problems with accessing quality healthcare.  Solutions such as the Ultramed range of products, enabling patients to maintain their own healthcare record, will help reduce the need to attend hospital other than for direct treatment.  So the vision of equal access to healthcare for all, regardless of where you live, looks like becoming a reality in the very near future.

Techno Talk Presents: MyPreOp

Our CEO and co-founder, Dr Paul Upton had the pleasure of being invited to talk about MyPreOp on the Techno Talk podcast back in March 2018.

In the episode Paul was joined by Professor Monty Mythen, editor in Chief of TopMedTalk, Nick Margerrison, presenter of Techno Talk, and Pete Paterson, a sports psychology master.

Paul thoroughly enjoyed his time recording the podcast, and please, let us know your thoughts! You can find the episode here.

And the Award Goes To...

The Medilink South West Healthcare Business Awards 2018 were a roaring success for team Ultramed. We were overwhelmed to have received the award for Outstanding Achievement.

Of course we consider our achievements to be outstanding on a daily basis, but to receive such recognition within a fiercly competitive category definitely blew us away.

Watch this space, because we're not done with this year yet. We came to succeed and inspire change!