NSW Health Pathology reaches for the cloud to speed up COVID-19 testing

Urgent, priority patients can be tested and be told their results within three hours.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Waiting 72 hours to receive COVID-19 test results can feel like forever. To speed up that process for urgent, priority patients, eHealth NSW has partnered with Microsoft to use cloud technology and artificial intelligence to reduce the waiting period to three hours.

NSW Health Pathology, which has been charged with overseeing COVID-19 testing clinics, has deployed rapid testing for COVID-19 to 35 portable point-of-care devices, so patients can be tested anywhere before their data is uploaded to Azure cloud via 4G connectivity and is reviewed by a clinician -- no matter their location -- in near real-time.

"I think with remote monitoring and remote testing you can start to change service models so you can have self-service in communities. That's how you're improving the quality of care, not just the availability of care," NSW Health Pathology CIO James Patterson said.

The point-of-care devices have also been used in specific COVID-19 testing situations, such as allowing test data to be collected from crew and passengers on a ship, so that results are instantly uploaded and analysed.

At the same, Patterson revealed the same technology was used to underpin the service that has enabled NSW Health Pathology to send NSW residents a SMS if their COVID-19 test results came back negative.

See also: COVID-19 has become a powerful catalyst for rapid cloud migration (TechRepublic)

Patterson added by being able to ingest data from different sources -- the point-of-care-devices, electronic medical records, such as My Health Records, and data stores in the NSW Health's systems -- analysis and reporting can be completed on a single platform.

"The whole volume of our COVID-19 tests is now visible through that secure Power BI platform, covering around 1.7 million patients as at October 2020," he said.

Aside from reducing wait times for patients, Patterson said the rapid testing systems have helped healthcare staff avoid over 300,000 hours of manual calls to patients.

Off the back of this deployment, NSW Health Pathology has been testing how the point-of-care systems can deliver other medical results faster to patients through trials at Blacktown and Westmead Hospitals.

The trial has involved combining point-of-care pathology results with algorithms to help clinicians identify when patients are at risk of a life-threatening condition known as sepsis in the emergency department.

"The power of this is really around doing the test and wrapping a service around that," Patterson said.

He added there is the potential of speeding up diagnosis and treatment for stroke patients, particularly in aged care homes, for instance.

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