Ufonia is an Oxford-based SME on an automation mission. Dora, the first UKCA marked conversational clinical assistant powered by artificial intelligence, is Ufonia’s solution to increase capacity in the current climate of increasing pressure on health and care services.
In their first use case, Dora delivers post-cataract surgery follow-up with an automated phone call, replacing routine interactions between patients and healthcare services without shifting the burden to primary care or community services.
A complex set of challenges
An ageing and increasingly multimorbid population have placed mounting pressure on resource-constrained NHS health and care services for several years. This challenge is compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving an elective care backlog and workforce pressure that is taking considerable time and investment to resolve.
Cataract surgery, for example, is the most common surgical procedure in the NHS with 452,000 operations undertaken in England annually and with seventy-two per cent of NHS Trusts conducting face-to-face follow-up for patients after surgery.
In Oxford, due to the rising resource demands of post-operative review, NHS services have not been able to proactively review their patients, relying instead on patients to seek help if they are concerned about a potential complication. To address the additional number of patients who now self-present, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is increasing funding for their eye casualty services – but this is only an interim solution, and extra capacity is sorely needed.
Late-stage digital innovation holds the key
New ways of working through digital innovation constitute part of a longer-term, sustainable solution to the many challenges currently faced by the NHS. AI, in the form of conversational agents like Ufonia’s Dora, has the potential to reform efficient healthcare delivery.
Crucially for patients, Dora does not require an app, a dedicated device, or user training. Dora simply calls a patient on their preferred phone number and provides a reliable, consistent safety net after surgery. Dora helps increase accessibility by calling at a convenient time for the patient and removes the need to travel to the hospital for an appointment. For healthcare services, Dora frees up hospital space and staff time whilst reducing financial and environmental costs.
Developed by Ufonia’s small multidisciplinary team, Dora was first deployed and validated at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, providing critical clinical evidence to demonstrate the conversational platform as a safe and acceptable solution for patients.
Further NIHR-funded clinical trials have since been completed at Oxford University Hospitals and Imperial College Healthcare Trusts. Ufonia has recently received two SBRI Healthcare Innovation funding awards as part of the Net Zero NHS and NHS Reset competitions, which will see the conversation platform adopted across the Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Integrated Care System (ICS) and Frimley ICS. As part of a partnership with Health Innovation Oxford and Thames Valley and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dora is also being developed further to include triage for head and neck cancer patients.
Navigating the health and care landscape
Ufonia was founded by Oxford-based neurosurgeon Nick de Pennington. A recent MBE graduate, Nick developed his idea for Ufonia through an entrepreneurship project with support from the Oxford Foundry.
Following collaborative projects with Oxford AHSN and three NHS Trusts to develop and evaluate Dora, Nick has recently turned to Oxford Academic Health Partners as part of Ufonia’s drive to scale up and commercialise the innovation.
Utilising its extensive network across the region, OAHP has worked to facilitate access to a range of organisations across Oxford to support Nick’s team to validate Ufonia’s technology.
“Being a patient-facing digital solution, safety and acceptability are at the centre of everything we do. It is vital to build evidence around what we do and we’re now partnering with organisations that can help us to facilitate that. They span across entities, from healthcare to academia, so at this stage, our success is dependent very much upon getting support to expose what we’re doing, leveraging OAHP’s influence and their ability to champion to facilitate access to the right groups across Oxford’s complex healthcare ecosystem.”
Nick de Pennington, CEO and Founder, Ufonia
The future for Ufonia and the NHS
Ufonia’s Dora is an innovative digital solution that supports the NHS’s long-term goal of increasing out-of-hospital, digitally-enabled outpatient care, whilst contributing to delivering net-zero health and care services across England.
Gaining support from appropriate organisations across the region will enable Ufonia to generate further data about their platform’s safety and accessibility, supporting their commercialisation goals so Dora’s conversational follow-up services can be adopted at scale across different specialities and NHS settings.