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COVID-19 a “Crucible” for Healthcare Innovation in New Zealand

patient having a telehealth consultation with their doctor

A year ago, I never would have imagined how COVID-19 would become a catalyst for healthcare innovation in New Zealand and for the organization I work for, Healthcare Holdings Limited, the country’s largest integrated provider of private health services.

Terrible as it has been, by harnessing the opportunities COVID-19 has brought, we’ve been able to drive better patient care. That started with the virtual go-live of the first phase of our electronic medical record (EMR) system. Beyond that, by embracing the concept of “healthy data”, the EMR is also enabling us to become a data-driven organization.

But first, some context. A number of drivers have been in play that have forced New Zealand’s health system and ourselves at Healthcare Holdings Limited and MercyAscot hospital to think about transformation – in particular how our services need to change to become more consumer centered. And one of the key drivers of this is value-based care.

Appetite and willingness to change

So, back to 2020 and along came COVID-19. What we saw was a rapid adoption of technology. Most healthcare providers needed to pivot very quickly and offer telehealth as the core service delivery model. The interesting thing through this period was that people had a huge appetite and willingness to engage in that change process.

At Healthcare Holdings Limited we’d already started a journey of digital transformation. We see digital health as a critical enabler for value-based healthcare. As one example, we’ve transformed our head and neck clinical pathway. A patient can now come in, see all the relevant specialists they need, get access to all the health services they need, and leave that 45-minute appointment with a diagnosis and treatment plan.

We’re utilizing robotic process automation to make our processes and systems more efficient. And we’ve also deployed a number of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to enable our clinical decision makers to focus on delivering care at the bedside.

But what COVID-19 did was create a crucible environment for us. Right at the time we were gearing up to go live, COVID-19 forced us to look at a virtual go-live. Teams worked around the clock to ensure we were responsive and could enable our clinical teams to continue to deliver what they needed to. A whole new paradigm was created for MercyAscot to go live and deliver care with the safety that was needed for our patients.

Data-driven decision making

We view the healthcare innovation that is occurring across three horizons. First, we needed the EMR in place as a foundational element to drive our digital transformation. Horizon 2 is being a mature analytics organization. That is around driving value for consumers, for our patients and also driving value for the organization in terms of understanding our processes and where we can make improvements.

For example, since we’ve gone live with TrakCare we’re now able to track consumable utilization in real time. This has led to significant efficiency gains because we’re able to see the consumables we’re utilizing through the delivery of care as opposed to the paper-based system we used to run.

Embedding a culture of change

We do, however, want to shift from that descriptive base to utilizing predictive, and eventually prescriptive analytics. Horizon 3 is the innovation horizon and the EMR is foundational in being able to automate and allow us to utilize things like AI and embed a culture of change across the organization.

Through COVID-19 we’ve come to learn that seeing change as a change management process is not enough. Through the virtual go-live experience, for example, we learned that the factors for success are mostly driven by human teams. We’ve got to build and embed a change culture across the health system and across the organization. Because only when people are comfortable that change is part of the new normal will we start to derive the true benefits and value of digital health approaches.

Read the latest blog posts on PULSE.

About the author

Lloyd McCann is CEO of Mercy Radiology and Head of Digital Health for Healthcare Holdings Limited, the largest integrated provider of private health services in New Zealand, and operator of MercyAscot hospital. Lloyd was a keynote speaker at the InterSystems Virtual Summit and his full presentation can been viewed here!

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