The Waitematā district health board leveraged self-taugh tech talent to get its tech projects on track. Source: Shutterstock

The Waitematā district health board leveraged self-taugh tech talent to get its tech projects on track. Source: Shutterstock

Does the healthcare industry lack tech talent? Waitematā doesn’t think so

TECHNOLOGIES such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the internet of things (IoT), 5G, and robotics have plenty of potential in the healthcare space. There’s no disputing that.

However, most healthcare organizations are unable to leverage those technologies because they neither have the digital infrastructure nor the technology talent to turn their vision into real projects.

“Health services have a lot to do before they can make the most of these opportunities,” Waitematā District Health Board (DHB) Clinical Director Innovation Robyn Whittaker told Tech Wire Asia underscoring the fact that industry professionals aren’t oblivious to the power that technology holds.

Whittaker and her team at Waitematā DHB have just made it to the list of finalists in the talent accelerator category at the IDC Digital Transformation Awards.

To prepare for the digital age, Whittaker’s team is working on the foundational layers, digitizing data, and making it available for clinicians and researchers looking to make sense of that data.

“This can only improve the quality of our data, as well as the quantity that is required for ‘big data’ research and machine learning developments. There is plenty more that we need to do to prepare for this.

Once the data platform is sorted, Waitematā hopes to leverage AI because it is the technology with the widest set of use cases in the healthcare space.

The Waitematā DHB is thinking about building an AI Lab and aims to involve clinicians right from the start so that the questions that they look for answers to are ones that are important to its patients.

Further, Whittaker understands that the population it serves feels that the health service is involved in the governance, privacy, and security of the public’s data, and hopes that the AI Lab will facilitate conversations about how their data can be used, acceptably, to support the business.

“We will be approaching all of these questions in the near future with a survey of our patients, the establishment of an expert and consumer advisory group, and the extension of research projects already underway,” Whittaker revealed.

Self-taught technology specialists lead the transformation

The Waitematā DHB is clearly preparing to take big strides in a bid to go digital. The question, therefore, is where are they going to get the people to lead the change — in an industry where technology professionals are scarce.

“We identified star (employees) that were already in our organization but were spread across multiple services, often working in isolation, and not aware of other projects that were going on.

“Many of these are people with clinical backgrounds/roles who are self-taught in IT and informatics.

“We brought those people together into our virtual Leapfrog team and supported them to do great things. We meet regularly to discuss progress, to provide expert help, to leverage other projects/developments, and to unblock any barriers or challenges to progress.”

For each project, the Leapfrog team puts forward a business case to the Waitematā DHB who also identifies any further expertise that may be required to ensure the success of the project.

While internal, self-taught talent helped kickstart digitization at Waitematā DHB, the organization is also preparing for the future.

“We are now working on training the next generation of clinical IT project leaders with a Digital Academy in collaboration with the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland.

“We also run a Fellows Programme where people from anywhere in the business can come and work for 12 months on a project, learn about how to make innovation happen, extend their networks, and then return to the business to continue supporting change in their part of the service.”

Healthcare technology delights professionals and patients

The Waitematā DHB discussed two digital projects with Tech Wire Asia. The first, InPatientSnapshot, is something that served clinicians, and the second — still under development — is something that is intended to delight patients.

“InPatientSnapshot has been developed by one of our clinical IT leads, David Ryan. Building on our existing systems, it brings together all the clinical information a clinician wants to see about a patient at any one time and displays it quickly and easily on one page.”

Previously clinicians would have to click on multiple tabs and move from page to page to see the same information which made it possible for them to miss things when in a hurry. With the new system, that’s unlikely to happen.

The technology project that the Waitematā DHB is working on to improve the patient experience intends to revolutionize and digitize the outpatient system — making interactions much more effective.

“It will support the organization and administration of clinics and improve efficiencies in the management of the resources in the department; Further, it will allow patients to change their appointment times online, reducing the number of ‘no shows’ to clinics and enhancing the patient experience.

“Finally, it will allow the development of new ways of following up with patients that may not require a visit to the hospital.

“One of the options we’re exploring is the introduction of a telehealth outpatients clinics – so that patients can have their appointment with a specialist service from their own home or workplace using video teleconferencing.

“This will save each patient, on average, more than NZD100 (US$63) in travel, time and parking costs.”

Whittaker seems confident about the ability of the Waitematā DHB and is excited that IDC has taken note of the efforts that her organization is making to go digital.

“It is not often that a public health organization wins awards for innovation or transformation against other industries. We were thrilled to be selected as finalists to represent some of the great work that is taking place in the public health sector in New Zealand,” concluded Whittaker.