No turning back on Turning Point’s digital transformation program

SUMMARY:

Delivering vital healthcare services to those facing substance abuse and mental health issues is a matter of urgency that digital technologies can address.

The tagline of London-based non-profit organization Turning Point is ‘Inspired by the possible’. This refers to its work in delivering healthcare services to people who may find themselves in situations that feel utterly hopeless, due to their substance abuse problems, mental health issues or severe learning disabilities. But it’s also a neat way to sum up the organization’s new approach to technology, led by CIO Amarjit Dhillon.

At Oracle OpenWorld last week in San Francisco, diginomica got the chance to sit down with Dhillon and hear a little bit about the progress made so far in Turning Point’s ten or so months as an Oracle Cloud customer.

In essence, Turning Point’s digital transformation program is all about bringing treatment pathways into the twenty-first century, he said.

We’re all used to interacting digitally in every other aspect of our lives, but we don’t seem to do that very much in healthcare. Right now, in the UK, it’s no secret that healthcare seems unlikely to attract more money and there’s a huge pressure on resources, so we want to go digital not just for all the right clinical reasons, but also from a productivity and efficiency perspective.

Urgent attention

It’s a sensitive subject, but many of the service users that Turning Point works with have considered or attempted suicide due to their problems. That means that there is huge pressure on the organization to speed up the process of receiving a referral – from a family doctor, for example – and getting their patient on a suitable recovery program. Since deploying Oracle Cloud, said Dhillon, there has been a remarkable reduction in the time it takes the organization to do that.

If people are at the ideation stage with suicide, what we tend to find is that between 23 percent and 27 percent will attempt suicide within the following year. So actually reaching out to people as early as possible in that ideation phase, and certainly before they convert ideation into an attempt, is extremely important.

The goal, he added, is to get them involved in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as quickly as possible. It’s one of the key weapons in Turning Point’s arsenal, which aims to bring CBT to the forefront of clinical pathways.

So, for example, if a GP refers a patient, the referral pathway could previously take about four weeks from referral to in-treatment. But on our first deployment of technologies from Oracle Cloud earlier this year, we were able to reduce that to 20 minutes. Today, we’re into a few minutes.

In other words, a service user is referred and can get started on an assessment, delivered digitally, at unprecedented speed, as Dhillon explained.

And based on the outcomes of that assessment, we can start delivering interventions straight away, countering suicidal ideation, for example, and planning for people to come into treatment.

Chatbots and analytics

But there is far more to come, Dhillon added. Turning Point is already using chatbots in its service delivery to users and has Oracle’s cloud analytics running in its laboratory environment. Chatbots have quickly become extremely important to its work, he said:

Service users are able to interact with them when they’re in crisis, even in crowded rooms, and it gives them a measure of privacy. But where we also want to go with this is to combine chatbots with a voice front-end. This is something I’ll be initiating in the weeks ahead, because this will provide a medium for those who may not be all that literate to interact with our systems.

And in future, when language understanding on voice channels goes beyond English, we can be even more inclusive, so that people who don’t understand English can still interact with us, without needing a chaperone or interpreter with them to discuss matters that are, after all, extremely personal.

The goal with analytics, meanwhile, is to get a better understanding of service users, their issues, the services offered to them and, most importantly, their outcome. After all, Turning Point is in the business of offering hope and recovery to people whose problems may feel hopeless, to them at least.

Dhillon’s also thinking that, once anonymized, the insights that Turning Point makes using analytics could prove very useful to academics researching addiction and recovery issues. There is, he says, a paucity of bottom-up data available to researchers and Turning Point potentially has stacks of it, but needs better ways to slice and dice it to reach meaningful conclusions as to what approaches best help people facing different combinations of addiction and mental health challenges.

Winning over detractors

The beauty of all this is that much of the technology that Turning Point needs to deliver on digital already resides in the Oracle Cloud stack, says Dhillon. While he faced some resistance in the organization at first to his bold implementation plans, he adds, the speed of transformation and the resulting improvements to service delivery have won most detractors over quite quickly.

People in our organization, like elsewhere in healthcare, have been used to thinking about technology in quite an old-fashioned way. They expect IT projects to be highly disruptive and bring little benefit. My job is to bring them on a journey, to start thinking about technology in a more modern way. It can be quite a stark contrast for them to be offered innovations that dramatically improve their working lives very quickly. They’re just not used to that.

But it’s very gratifying to be able to confound them – and to help very caring people to go about their work in the best way possible, both for them and for the people that they help.

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Disclosure - Oracle is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.

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