CIO50 2020 #10 Dr Kudzai Kanhutu, Royal Melbourne Hospital
Doctor Kudzai Kanhutu is a foremost expert, and a staunch advocate, for telehealth, especially as a platform for enabling remote, disadvantaged and linguistically-diverse patients gain access to highly-specialised medical treatments they would otherwise be denied.
When the COVID-19 crisis accelerated in March 2020, her work and valued leadership meant the Royal Melbourne Hospital was able to expand its existing telehealth operations by over 2000 percent as the city became the most severely-affected hotspot in Australia, with some of the world’s harshest lockdown restrictions subsequently applied.
Her work in digital healthcare has been cited in several peer-reviewed medical journals, helping to inform and inspire her peers throughout the world.
In her role as deputy chief medical information officer, Dr. Kanhutu is at the forefront of the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s digital transformation program.
She has been the lead clinical liaison between the electronic medical record team and hospital based COVID-19 clinicians, ensuring that the electronic tools and resources clinicians need to work safely, efficiently and effectively are available to them at the patient bedside.
As a member of the Royal Melbourne Hospital electronic medical record (EMR) team she was able to contribute to the successful go-live of the Epic EMR in August 2020, bang in the middle of the city’s stage-4 COVID-19 lockdown.
As the pandemic deepened, Dr. Kanhutu has directed the development of COVID-specific content build and clinical decision support in the Epic EMR, including an infection assessment tool and screening clinical workflows and documentation templates.
Rural and regional patients can suffer worse health outcomes as a result of poor access to specialist medical care. In taking on the leadership of the Royal Melbourne Hospital telehealth service, Dr. Kanhutu wanted to change this.
As an infectious diseases doctor, Dr. Kanhutu’s primary objective in leading the telehealth team was to reduce the discomfort and inconvenience patients experience when forced to travel for their specialist appointments.
Most recently Dr. Kanhutu has been enlisted to assist in the development of a virtual hospital to deliver home-based care to the state’s rising tide of COVID-19 patients.
In this capacity, she has overseen an explosion in telehealth consultations from the low base of 44 in 2016 to 1,526 telehealth consultations in 2018/19, with most recent figures at over 3000 in response to the pandemic.
The hospital has calculated that throughout 2017/18, patients were spared a combined 1.1 million kilometres of travel. In the space of days, the entire hospital outpatient service was able to seamlessly transition to telehealth delivered care.
The result was a 2255 percent increase in the use of telehealth at a tertiary hospital within a period of six weeks, and a significant simultaneous improvement in clinic attendance rates.
Even more remarkable, is that the overwhelming majority of clinicians and patients rated the standard of consultation and care on par with face-to-face interactions.
The user interface and interaction with real staff members when attending their appointments has been a valued feature of the service. Patients are still greeted by exactly the same people they would see if they were attending an in-person appointment.
Patients can also choose to have a video interpreter or a guided test call facilitated by a member of the telehealth team. Clinicians have access to telehealth helpdesk or in room support.
These are just some of the features that have come into being in response to detailed user feedback.
Dr. Kanhutu and her team invested heavily in monitoring consumer satisfaction and have built evaluation tools into the videoconferencing workflow so that patients and doctors can give real time feedback.
An electronic dashboard was also developed in 2018 to allow monitoring of patient travel savings and the cumulative contribution to reducing the organisation’s carbon footprint. Healthcare professionals are undoubtedly among our best and brightest, yet the sector has typically lagged others when it comes to embracing digital tools.
Key to the success of the project Dr. Kanhutu led was not only a sharp focus on ‘user-centred-design’ but also on improving digital literacy. Close to 250 doctors, nurses and administration staff were trained to use the platforms connecting an impressive 150 telehealth consultation rooms set up across the organisation.
Dr. Kanhutu has always had a drive to help people in real need. Prior to her current role with RMH, she worked in refugee health where she witness first-hand just the profound challenges faced by newly arrived families with complex care needs.
Not only are many families being settled in rural and regional locations, but there are also chronic shortages of accredited interpreters in the emerging languages to support them.
In response, Dr. Kanhutu and her team expanded the existing telehealth platform to include video-interpreting, a feature which has already helped 56 patients speaking 18 different languages.
In her role as deputy chief medical information officer Dr. Kanhutu is at the forefront of the hospital digital transformation agenda. She has been the lead clinical liaison between the electronic medical record team and hospital based COVID-19 clinicians.
While on the board of the Australian Institute of Digital Health she chaired a national conference on the future of digital transformation in healthcare. Attended by over 1000 delegates, the program highlighted the urgent need to address inequity with regard to accessing digital platforms.
Dr. Kanhutu was elected to the role of clinical lead with the Australian Digital Health Agency where she oversaw clinical outreach for the My Health Record roll out. She also voiced the importance of ensuring that future iterations of MHR meet the needs of our diverse communities.
Through her leadership in the Superstars of STEM program she also continues to promote gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
This program sees her mentoring girls and young women aspiring to careers in STEM fields.
Climate change and environmental health are also important causes for Dr. Kanhutu, with her contribution to telehealth making a small contribution in the reduction of emissions through the elimination of increasingly unnecessary travel.
The upshot is, she hopes, better air quality leading to greater health and overall community wellbeing.
She is also on the board of the Tweddle Child and Family Health Service, where she advocates for the importance of families in sustaining community health. She plays a key role in the clinical governance committee, helping the organisation meet its clinician and cyber security requirements.
Not only is Dr. Kanhutu at the front line of Australia’s response to COVID-19 from a technology perspective, but she is also at the vanguard of our efforts on the clinical side.
An honorary fellow of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, she has been involved in recruiting participants for a ground-breaking clinical project on the role of immune system in COVID-19 recovery.