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Deirdre seeks to improve patient care through innovation at Tallaght Hospital

A woman in medical clothes stands beside an ultrasound machine in a clinical setting.

“Innovation to me involves coming up with new ideas and devices, but also developing new approaches to the use of established interventions,” according to Deirdre Fitzgerald, Consultant in Respiratory and Pleural Medicine at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH). In medicine, pleural refers to the thin covering that protects the lungs.

Deirdre continues: “Optimising patient care through more efficient use of available resources, and harnessing the creativity and technological advances available in other fields outside of medicine, is my main motivation."

"The new software programme I am using for my patients, for example, harnesses an established virtual platform currently in use for heart efficiency and applies it to patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).”

Deirdre also works from the Respiratory Integrated Care Hub in the community which is linked to TUH. Since starting at TUH, she has been working with the Innovation Team to look at efficient, technology-supported ways of improving patient care. As a result, she has collaborated with a private IT company to enrol patients with COPD onto a virtual platform where they will be followed for early signs of deterioration. This enables earlier intervention to reduce hospital presentations.

She has also driven the process to make it possible for doctors to prescribe more green inhalers by ensuring they are included in the hospital’s medicines guide. She has further changed the most commonly dispensed inhaler in TUH  to a more sustainable version, a move which aims to halve the hospital’s inhaler-related carbon footprint.

In her role in the Integrated Care Hub, she has established a paperless service using an electronic form with diagnostics stored on a shared drive, accessible only to hub staff: “Working with the Innovation Team has taught me that when a problem is identified, I need to turn it upside down, look at it from all angles and consider alternative approaches rather than following the status quo. That allows me to find innovative solutions.”

Deirdre is currently working on a project looking at using a handheld ultrasound device in the community to identify comorbidities (when a person has more than one disease) in patients who are referred to the Respiratory Clinic. She explains that “the goal is to have a nurse specialist trained in lung ultrasound using a simple five minute examination to identify any alternate diagnoses requiring onward referral."

"On a larger scale, the Respiratory Department is working on a project to incorporate an AI tool into the radiology assessment of lung nodules. This would in turn reduce the number of CT scans performed.”

In conclusion, she advises anyone seeking to innovate to “start by defining the problem in detail, identifying stakeholders and making a process map and root cause analysis. This helped me to find gaps in the service that I was unaware of. Also, ask colleagues and stakeholders for their thoughts on your idea.”