CIO50 2020 #1 John Sutherland, Ramsay Health Care
On March 30, Ramsay Health Care's Joondalup Health Campus in Perth accepted 30 COVID-positive patients from the beleaguered cruise ship Artania, with many in a critical condition requiring immediate transfer to the intensive care unit. Sadly, a number were too unwell to be saved.
At this point, the hospital’s COVID-19 clinic had only been operational for several days. This required an immense response. The IT group, in particular helped establish a pop-up testing clinic, reconfigured sections of the hospital for COVID-19 patients, and relocated the children's’ emergency centre, mental health observation unit, birthing suites, physio, and medical administration. Remote access to systems in the COVID-19 ‘dirty’ sections of the hospital were also put in place to minimise staff exposure to COVID-positive patients.
“I am proud of our IT team members, who despite the confronting situation and uncertainty of the still poorly understood coronavirus, collaborated with other departments and influenced positive outcomes at Joondalup,” Ramsay’s chief information officer, John Sutherland tells CIO Australia.
For the past five years, Sutherland has created a high-performance culture at the organisation, which operates 73 hospitals and day surgery units.
“We expect much of our IT staff; they need to be at their best so that our clinical workforce can give their best when providing care to the sick and vulnerable,” he says.
Just over the past 12 months, Sutherland’s team is reporting significant improvements in their operational performance. Incidents are resolved, on average, in 1.4 days which is an 18 per cent improvement on the year prior, and there has been a 43 per cent improvement in the average abandonment rate to 3.3 per cent of all calls. Further, 75 per cent of support calls are now answered within 10 seconds.
Sutherland tells CIO Australia that COVID-19, despite being one of the most extraordinary health crises of our time, has in many cases changed the way people think about the role of technology.
Operational challenges arose when Ramsay ramped up its COVID-19 screening process this year. Interviewing people about their COVID-19 exposure caused delays while waiting rooms were becoming overcrowded.
“Our objective was to keep people safe while removing inefficiencies that impacted staff productivity and the patient experience,” Sutherland says.
Ramsay’s COVID-19 smartphone screening tool uses a QR code, displayed on hospital websites and at entry points, to check people for exposure to COVID-19. Once the online questionnaire is completed, their phone displays a green colour if they are safe to enter, or an amber colour which requires consultation with a staff member. This multilingual tool screens more than 100,000 people through its hospitals every week.
Sutherland says that as COVID-19 began in Australia, the organisation anticipated that many emergency departments, including Australia’s busiest, would see a surge of patients with symptoms requiring testing.
“In preparation for this influx and needing to keep potential positive cases isolated, we designed the COVID-19 Clinical Assessment app, which would allow a patient to complete a triage questionnaire prior to arriving at a hospital for testing,” Sutherland says.
“The app was designed to guide a patient through all of the triage stages leading up to testing, alleviating any need for paper or manual data collection through the process.”
Further, Sutherland and his team created a virtual waiting room. This is a digital platform that creates operational and cultural change by making crowded waiting rooms a thing of the past. Once a patient fills out their paperwork, they are free to leave the facility or walk around. They receive a text or phone call when it’s time to return for admission.
“To stay ahead of the growing rate of infections, we rolled out these innovations in a matter of weeks, demonstrating our versatility and how technology is a core competency with Ramsay.”
The intersection of research and technology
One cultural impact of the pandemic has been the inability to physically provide the services patients need. To address this, Sutherland and his tech team worked with medical and legal departments to deploy a suite of virtual healthcare services.
These included online maternity education programs featuring virtual antenatal classes; the ‘StayWell’ app that supports mental health patients after they leave the clinic through personalised stay well strategies including triggers, early warning signs, coping strategies and support network links. Clinicians are also conducting mental health and rehabilitation programs online.
Sutherland adds that Ramsay has also been grappling with one of the biggest cultural impacts of the pandemic: how to deliver personalised care while keeping people safe.
‘Temi’ is a telepresence robot that allows doctors at Greenslopes Private Hospital to personally treat patients when maintaining infection control measures. The robot’s head is a monitor with a live feed to the doctor who is treating the patient. As a semi-autonomous platform, it can navigate around the ward, move with patients and carry medical equipment.
“Temi doesn’t just protect people and preserve much-needed personal protective equipment supplies. It also uses innovation to bring human contact back to healthcare at a time when it is most needed. Dr Mark Baldwin, director of emergency, stated that patients say it’s actually more personable to interact with an unmasked face, even if it’s on a screen, especially as it moves with them.”
Meanwhile, 7 automated robots deliver around 15,000 meals across Hollywood Hospital’s 10 hectare campus, a first in Western Australia. These robots, which are monitored from the United States, cover 350km each week and have 3D maps of the hospital in their memory and scanners to detect obstacles.
“As well as increasing productivity and meeting our objective of improving the patient experience, they have reduced the amount of manual handling required by hospital staff - an added value during the pandemic,” says Sutherland.
Sutherland says that Ramsay’s approach to technological innovation has expanded to include investments in medical technology startups. These include referral platforms and machine learning AI systems.
“These are long-term strategies that will soon become mainstream adjuncts to specialists and help to deliver significant improvements in healthcare outcomes such as a 30 per cent improvement in IVF results due to AI-powered imaging processing. The AI system is now more accurate than embryologists in assessing embryo viability,” says Sutherland.
“Delivering innovative solutions at the intersection of clinical research and technology is a privilege. I am honoured to play a part.”
Communicating the future technology agenda
In 2019, after identifying a need to better communicate his technology team’s vision to its stakeholders, Sutherland drove the creation of a new report highlighting the ways IT played a role in implementing technology at the organisation.
“I believe this is a unique publication,” he says. “The report has become an effective tool in communicating our technology agenda to stakeholders inside and outside of the business, showcasing our many Australian and world technology firsts and embedding our position as a leader in private health care.”