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Harnessing AI to drive automation in patient pathways

Posted: - 2nd May 2023

Ufonia is an innovative digital health company based in Oxford. Founded by a neurosurgeon with experience leading NHS digital programmes, the company is harnessing AI technologies to drive automation in patient pathways and solve some of the biggest challenges in healthcare.

Ufonia has built Dora – an autonomous telemedicine assistant – for use in routine clinical conversations. The platform uses AI to telephone patients and conduct a routine clinical consultation rather than involving healthcare staff. Dora doesn’t require patients to use any technology, they simply have a normal phone call. In doing so, the technology increases clinical capacity, reduces providers’ costs and eases demand on healthcare staff. The initial focus has been on the most common operation in the NHS – cataract surgery (400,000 procedures every year in the UK) – particularly post-operative follow-up calls to patients.

The product has been given UKCA/CE Mark approval and has been deployed in three NHS hospitals and surveyed patients have said they are highly likely to recommend the system. Through support from the AHSN Network and its partners, the company is conducting further clinical studies in the UK and are establishing international partnerships to evaluate Dora.

How the AHSN have been involved

The Oxford AHSN has been involved with Ufonia since its early stages in 2018 and has worked closely with the company to explore their potential customer base, value proposition, and articulate their business model. In support of the launch and discovery phase, Oxford AHSN performed a study to explore Dora’s utility in clinical practice and helped develop a health economics model focusing on follow-up post cataract surgery.

Alongside this, Oxford AHSN has assisted the company in identifying pilot sites and with Patient and the Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) work throughout product development and implementation. Oxford AHSN has additionally been a partner in successful funding applications to Innovate UK and the NHSX/NIHR AI Award.

Ufonia has received additional support from the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN and the wider AHSN Network as a member of the 2020 Propel@YH programme and as part of the 2022 DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme. The Network has further enabled the company to access tailored support and guidance from expert organisations including the Association of British HealthTech Industries (ABHI), helping the company to explore partnerships in key markets overseas.

How the AHSNs have supported Ufonia on its export journey

As a member of the Propel@YH 2020 cohort, Ufonia was able to access a structured course of support and advice aimed at accelerating their growth and market presence in the UK. Through the programme, Yorkshire & Humber AHSN supported the company with signposting and introductions to organisations, key stakeholders and expert partner organisations including NHS providers, to help successfully scale their technology and build the evidence base to support wider adoption in the UK and abroad.

Ufonia has been further supported with global market access as a member of the 2022 cohort of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners, and the Health Innovation Network, along with MedCity, CW+ and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The programme has enabled its 20 participants to benefit from international partnerships with two US Accelerators: Cedars-Sinai and Mass Challenge. As a member, this gives Ufonia the chance to network and showcase its innovation to international stakeholders.

The AHSN Network has continued to help Ufonia to strengthen its export strategy through partnerships with support programmes like the ABHI’s US Accelerator Programme and Innovation Hub in Texas. The company is one of the 40 UK HealthTech innovators to successfully secure a place on the 2022 cohort of the ABHI US Accelerator. The 12-month programme provides tailored support to UK HealthTech companies, helping them de-risk market entry to the US, with a series of trade missions taking place throughout the year to introduce them to key stakeholders across some of the largest healthcare systems in the States.

The impacts of AHSN partnership to date

The AHSN Network has been instrumental in providing health economic evaluation and business development, helping Ufonia to build an invaluable base of evidence and validate clinical need, supporting the company to gather interest and investment in the UK and abroad. Ufonia has further leveraged the partnership with the Oxford AHSN to secure interactions with potential stakeholders such as investors, grant bodies and national bodies such as the NHS. With the AHSN Network’s support, the company has been able to scale across the region and then nationally as well as forming valuable partnerships within the NHS and beyond.

Ufonia has already been deployed at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and its lead site Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust with the support of Oxford AHSN, and will be soon at three other acute sites in their region (Milton Keynes NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, and Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust). In the UK, the technology is helping to support the NHS recovery from the covid-19 pandemic, providing an innovative way to tackle the treatment backlog and ease workforce pressure.

Ufonia was recently announced as one of ten successful recipients of SBRI Healthcare’s 18th competition, to help deliver a net zero NHS. The development funding competition, delivered in partnership the AHSN Network, will help the company to work with Oxford AHSN and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where Dora will be used to triage people referred to Head and Neck cancer services.

Internationally, the company is using its tremendous success in the UK as a launchpad for its success overseas. The company has already secured partnerships in Europe, including the Netherlands, and is in the early stages of partnership in Hong Kong. Through support from the AHSN Network, and as part of the ABHI US Accelerator, Ufonia are now engaging with healthcare systems and leaders in the US.

Find out more about Ufonia