By Aine Cryts
The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are sending ripples outward, affecting all aspects of healthcare around the world. Since the beginning of the outbreak Stockholm, Sweden-based Elekta—which develops tools and treatment planning systems for radiation therapy, radiosurgery, and brachytherapy in addition to workflow systems for cancer care—has been in “continuous and close” communication with customers to make sure their machines are operational, according to company spokesperson Glenn Silver.
“Our global business regions have always driven and adapted communication to suit their customers’ national and local needs,” Silver told AXIS Imaging News. “We’re working with customers [hospital clinicians and radiation therapists] to ensure that their equipment continues to function optimally.”
AXIS Imaging News recently asked Silver about the company’s approach to communicating with customers about its business-continuity plans and ways Elekta can help support them during the coronavirus pandemic. What follows is a lightly edited version of that conversation.
AXIS Imaging News: What are you communicating to customers about your business-continuity plans?
Glenn Silver: As a global company committed to improving cancer care and outcomes, we have well-established teams and processes for identifying and responding to a variety of crises that can impact our customers and/or our operations. Elekta’s global crisis management team has a bird’s-eye view on the COVID-19 situation for the whole company across all entities and continuously monitors its development. Our crisis management team also supports many local crisis management teams in matters where they need guidance and/or global principles to ensure that they comply with global and local regulations.
Two examples of such matters: (1) How we support employees who need to work remotely with IT solutions and (2) how our regions can ensure that spare parts reach hospitals in places that have restrictions regarding transportation.
AXIS: What are you doing to keep employees safe?
Silver: Keeping our employees safe is always a top priority. Our field-service engineers are the most at-risk group in the current COVID-19 crisis because they work on-site at care centers that may be caring for infected patients. Our local service teams provide them with protective equipment and safety procedures for when they’re servicing machines at hospitals. Our principle for employee health and safety is that each legal entity and country is responsible for decisions and guidance, for example on working from home, to ensure we adhere to local regulations.
Each country has its own management team that acts as a local crisis management team to deal with employee health and safety. Also, our human resources team has a task force that feeds information from each location all the way up to the executive vice president of human resources, who reports the situation to our crisis management team for a global view. We monitor issues such as suspected COVID-19 cases, test results, and home quarantine.
Depending on the situation, offices might be closed entirely, they might be open but with a recommendation to work from home or to avoid public transportation, or they might be open as normal but with direction to employ social distancing. On a weekly basis, a report is sent from the crisis management team to our executive management team to enable them to make informed decisions for the whole company.
AXIS: What are you doing to help hospital customers deliver care?
Silver: For more than 50 years, Elekta has worked in partnership with our customers to help them fulfill their vital mission to deliver cancer care, and we continue to operate under this principle even during the coronavirus pandemic. Our priority is to ensure that patients have access to optimum care. We achieve this by providing the highest quality service to keep our radiation-delivery systems up and running, and to install new machines wherever possible, depending on local regulations. Where feasible, we have also provided education and training for clinicians using new or upgraded Elekta software or solutions. Our remote support provided through our Elekta care support centers is also an enabler because customers receive 24/7 support from three support centers that cover all time zones and geographies.
A key tool for providing remote support is our remote system support service, which securely connects to Elekta systems in hospitals to monitor and diagnose system data. It can identify issues remotely and enables our customer service agents to either do remote fixes on Elekta systems or determine that an on-site visit is required to fix an issue. So it helps our engineers understand the sites that need support to keep their systems up and running.
AXIS: How are you communicating with clients?
Silver: Communication is primarily conducted via direct calls or emails to cater to each customer’s unique situation. We have increased our online education and training, instead of live face-to-face training sessions, to ensure customers and clinicians have up-to-date knowledge and competence. Per above, our remote system support service helps us to target our communication to where it’s needed and proactively act on system failures in hospitals.
AXIS: How often are you communicating with clients? When did you start?
Silver: As part of our deep commitment to ensuring optimum use of our products, Elekta has always maintained regular communication with clients and personnel. Since the coronavirus pandemic, this has been more direct and proactive. We strive to be preemptive. Depending on the stakeholder and the situation, we might communicate daily—for example, on our internal social media channel—or on an ad hoc basis.
AXIS: Why are you doing this? Arguably, it takes your teams away from other vital work.
Silver: Servicing our customers, while at the same time making sure Elekta’s employees work in as safe surroundings as possible, is the top priority of our company. It does take resources away from other work, but in this extreme situation where hospitals are under pressure to deliver care while simultaneously caring for patients with COVID-19, nothing could be more important for us.
Needless to say, every Elekta team still needs to focus on the business. Our engineers continue their work to improve our machines and innovate to get new solutions to the market. Our sales teams are doing their utmost to carry out meetings any way they can. Other teams are also teaming up to support the business.