Case study: assessing COVID-19 risk for thousands within minutes

Challenge: getting a team of less than 20 to have the impact of 1000s

Like many other NHS trusts, the occupational health team at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals (NNUH) trust was significantly impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. 
Hilary Winch, Head of Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing at NNUH, explains:

“I recall very distinctly, Boris [Johnson] announcing the shielding guidance late one evening and I knew full well that our phone would be ringing the next morning… In those initial few weeks, we spoke to over 3,500 staff who were concerned about their own health or the health of those they lived with. It was just crazy… It was quite horrific actually.”

Hilary’s team is responsible for the health and safety of staff members within her NHS trust. With the advent of the coronavirus, it received its biggest workload, with the pressure of needing to speak to as many people as quickly as possible. Every NHS trust needed to deliver diagnostic and therapeutic services to the public but, to do this effectively, they needed to ensure their stretched workforces weren’t further decimated by COVID-19 infections. 

Equally importantly was meeting their duty of care to employees’ protection and wellbeing. NNUH needed to ensure staff wouldn’t be placed in needlessly life-threatening situations.

Approach: create a digital clone of your best specialists’ know-how

Dr Robert Hardman, Consultant in Occupational Medicine at Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing, is a specialist who works on Hilary’s team. While the team was having manual conversations with staff members more vulnerable to COVID, Dr Hardman began talking to Rainbird about how automation and AI might help. 

In a typical occupational health assessment, Dr Hardman and his colleagues go through (broadly speaking) a few steps: 

  1. Conduct interviews with staff members (gather information)
  2. Assess each staff member’s risk, based on their personal circumstances, government policy and clinical guidance (make a judgement)
  3. Document the information gathered and judgment made, especially for future reference or subsequent assessments (record data)

Rainbird’s intelligent decision automation platform could help across all three steps, given: 

  1. It can interact with people using a conversational, chat-style interface to gather information
  2. It can hold a model of an expert’s decision-making process and connect that model to data so it can automate decisions
  3. It can automate the process of deciding which pieces of information to record, as well as where and how

According to Hilary, the interviews alone were time-consuming: 

“You would speak with a staff member probably for a good 20 minutes to half an hour, to find out their own personal health information, assess this against the knowledge we were gaining  and talk through their anxieties.”

So, we built a Rainbird model of Dr Hardman’s expertise in conducting COVID-19 risk assessments, and incorporated government policy and clinical guidelines. 

Instead of the occupational health team having to manually assess every employee, staff could complete an online chat with Rainbird’s tool—which would ask for all relevant information, make a risk level judgment and send key information to the appropriate records.

Results: superhuman speed and accuracy, with a real human touch

Increased testing speed and accuracy

In the words of Hilary, “We can get all 9,000 staff, in theory, doing their risk assessments at the same time. We couldn’t do all 9,000 staff manually at the same time.”

Because Rainbird’s tool relies on computing power, you can run as many concurrent risk assessments as needed. Rainbird’s tool takes the expertise of a specialist and applies it consistently, every single time. 

It also accounts for unique risks to Black, Asian and Middle Eastern (BAME) people and other highly vulnerable groups—and did so early on (when many manual risk assessments did not).

Privacy protected

When undergoing risk assessments, staff often have to divulge sensitive health information. For this reason, it’s uncomfortable and borderline unethical to have line managers conducting these. 

In Hilary’s words, “Somebody might have kept some of that health information very, very private… You know, if they’ve got an immunosuppressed condition… they may not want to tell their manager.”

For this reason, Rainbird’s tool doesn’t store the personal information of staff. And when a consultation is complete, it automatically sends out two reports. One is for the occupational health team (contains detailed health information and the rationale underlying the employee’s risk rating) and the other is for managers/HR (contains only the risk rating and no health information). 

This way, managers aren’t exposed to inappropriate information and staff don’t have their privacy violated. 

Increased capacity for human connection

Machines can perform logical analyses but can’t deliver emotional connection—the COVID-19 pandemic has required Hilary’s team to excel at both. 

Because Rainbird’s tool is doing the heavy lifting of performing COVID risk assessments, Hilary and her team are freed up to have one-on-one conversations, where a human touch is needed: 

“What it meant for us was, when we launched, we were able to focus on having those conversations—particularly with those people who were shielding… we had a one-on-one conversation with every single one of them to talk through their anxieties and explore risk mitigations methods to get them back to a safe place of work, once shielding ended.”

Reduced bias and inconsistency

In situations with heightened emotions, increased complexity and overwhelming volumes, human error abounds. This is true, no matter the organisation or individual. 

Because Rainbird’s tool applies its model of COVID-19 risk without prejudice, emotions or fatigue, it doesn’t give inconsistent or contradictory outcomes. The result is a much higher level of accuracy in risk assessments and less exposure to risk for employees.

Regular reassessments that minimise risk

Since Rainbird’s tool helps Hilary’s team complete super-accurate COVID-19 risk assessments, at such a high volume and with little administrative burden, it is now possible to run risk assessments more regularly. 

This is necessary for dealing with highly dynamic situations like the COVID-19 pandemic—new information about the virus (e.g. if certain individuals are at greater risk of death from COVID than others) is constantly emerging. As a result, government guidance, clinical measures and employee risk profiles are constantly changing. 

People’s health or personal circumstances may also change—an employee may develop a separate illness that increases their vulnerability to COVID-19 or they may become pregnant and have concerns about being in the workplace. A one-off risk assessment provides a “one-off” outcome for that time. If things change, then a risk assessment has to be reviewed and that is no different for this global pandemic. If only undertaken once, a risk assessment could provide a dangerously inaccurate picture.

Get access to Rainbird's COVID-19 occupational health risk assessment tool

Get access to Rainbird's COVID-19 occupational health risk assessment tool

The only way to responsibly meet NHS E&I’s requirement to risk assess all vulnerable staff is with an automated tool like ours. Get your trust access to our approved COVID-19 risk assessment tool today.