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Celebration of Service

Caring to thrive, grant supports getting patients to doctors

IBM Volunteers work with The Irish Cancer Society to improve transportation for cancer patients

IBM has awarded a Centennial Grant to The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) to help further the expansion and national rollout of its Care to Drive program, which provides free transportation for cancer patients to and from their medical appointments.

“Care to Drive has been popular and successful, and for those reasons ICS is stressing its current systems to manage it,” says Robert McCarthy, a business development manager for IBM’s research organization in Ireland, specializing in Smarter Cities technology. Robert applied for the IBM Centennial Grant on behalf of ICS.

In Ireland, eight specialized cancer treatment centers are spread throughout the country. While the centers provide world-class care they are often not convenient for those living in rural communities, or place an additional burden on families and individuals needing to juggle their work schedules with the travel required to get to a treatment center. Public transport is often not practical for someone already weakened by illness or chemotherapy.

More than 29,000 people in Ireland are diagnosed with cancer each year. As Robert says, “The last thing anyone wants is for them to worry about how to get to their doctors. ICS wants to improve Care to Drive and make it available throughout the country. This is something we should be able to do on a Smarter Planet using technology and know-how.”

Driving a smarter route

Started as a pilot program in 2008, Care to Drive has transported hundreds of patients and made thousands of journeys in its door-to-door service. However, coordinating as few as 30 round trips per week means 1,560 journeys are managed per year with a huge complexity of interconnections, while also ensuring the service is provided in a caring way.

Today the system is labor intensive and relies on the staff from ICS, volunteers and patients to synchronize their needs more often. Systems are disconnected, working in silos, and not informed by real-time events, like traffic congestion, or last-minute cancellations.

ICS's vision, to be realized with support from IBM volunteers and the Centennial Grant, is a cloud-based environment, interconnecting patients, social care workers, volunteer drivers and the Care to Drive staff with mobile devices. While improving efficiency, linking everyone together will also impact emotional outcomes like reducing patient anxiety, and creating a better sense of community among the volunteer drivers.

Route planning, scheduling, accounting, and reimbursement are features of the smarter approach to be rolled out first. Later, mapping technology will provide real-time sensing of events like traffic alerts, while intelligent algorithms will match volunteers with patients, track anomalies and mitigate manual intervention—all forming a possible blueprint for a nationwide volunteer-based system of transport in Ireland and elsewhere.

IBM volunteers in Ireland—software architects, developers, researchers, mathematicians, and project managers—will develop a smart system that allows ICS to grow Care to Drive with an estimated cost savings of €500,000 a year.

Rory Collins, a cancer patient in Dublin County, has used the service since its inception. In an ICS story Rory’s wife said, “The service is such that we are treated with respect, courtesy and dignity. The Irish Cancer Society runs a wonderful service and we appreciate it so much. It really takes the pressure off couples like us.”

Robert, who helped make the connection between IBM and ICS, says “I can see IBM volunteers having a real impact in Ireland with this system, which could be transferred to other organizations with similar needs. The impact could be huge.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.