CIO50 2022 #4 Richard Taggart, Sydney Local Health District
Richard Taggart began his career as a pharmacist working in hospitals and retail pharmacies. He recalls one particular day during a long shift when he dispensed a prescription that had been handwritten by a doctor.
“I made a mistake and the patient ended up receiving the wrong medication. Thankfully, the person was not seriously harmed, but this made me realise that there was a better way, safer way to do things,” Taggart tells CIO Australia.
Following this incident, Taggart committed himself to digital health.
“It is one of the most rewarding choices I have ever made. Although I’ve been a technologist for much longer now, my original clinical background helps me prioritise solutions that best suit the health service.”
Taggart is now executive director, digital health and innovation (CIO) at Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) with what he describes as “some of the most innovative digital leaders in the world.”
“All of us are committed to use technology to improve healthcare outcomes for patients, their families, as well as clinical staff,” says Taggart.
Over the past two years, SLHD has delivered a bevvy of innovations to help communities deal with the impact of the COVID pandemic.
In last year’s nomination, Taggart spoke of the bespoke technology behind the NSW Health Vaccination Centre at Sydney’s Olympic Park. He and his team built and launched a vaccination platform in less than 10 days, followed by an intense period of continuous improvement and weekly releases. In 2021, in collaboration with NSW Health Pathology, they launched a daily self-service COVID testing system for all airport, quarantine and front-line health workers. This allowed 8,500 critical workers to use an app and automated kiosks to manage their mandatory daily swab.
This year, new innovations have also been rolled out. In early 2022, SLHD went live with a Virtual Intensive Care service, vICU. This allows the critical care team at RPA Hospital to provide around-the-clock monitoring and peer-to-peer support to the ICU at Broken Hill Hospital, in the far west of NSW.
“In a few short months, we have already seen improved outcomes for patients in Broken Hill. In particular, the program has reduced the number of people that needed to be transferred long distances to other hospitals, which can place a significant burden on families,” says Taggart.
In-mid 2022, he and his team launched a digital patient experience program called ‘Florence,’ named in honour of Florence Nightingale. The initiative has digitised the referral, appointment booking, check-in and follow-up processes. Although early in its development, the organisation is already seeing efficiencies across its clinics, shorter queues and happier patients, Taggart says.
In late 2021, the SLHD also introduced Vocera, a voice-enabled communication and documentation offering for clinicians working in critical care, emergency department and COVID wards. This enables staff to use their voice to request assistance or log tasks for patients. A pre- and post-implementation study demonstrated that nursing teams, in particular, gained hours of time back per shift that can be better spent on patient care.
The SLHD also launched a ‘career conversations’ program that connects c-level women leaders with other women in the digital health team.
“By sharing experiences, making connections and providing mentoring, the program hopes to help our women take their careers to the next level,” says Taggart.
Digital design practice
With each new initiative, Taggart says, the team is learning and refining its ways of working, investing in tools, skills and resources. Experienced clinicians have now been embedded into the leadership group, including chief clinical information officers as well as other health informaticians.
“These clinical colleagues bring a deep understanding of our business and are able to help ensure our digital solutions best meet the needs of the front line,” says Taggart.
A weekly meeting brings the team together to focus on key priorities for customers. This time is used to highlight problems with services, identify opportunities to deliver business value and prioritise new solutions that best suit the health service.
SLHD’s continually maturing ‘digital design practice’ is a department-wide commitment to design thinking. The practice has developed a framework that helps teams put customers at the centre of everything and considers the full lifecycle of products and services.
“It allows us to bring the best of our ITIL gurus, PRINCE2 project managers, agile practitioners, devops teams, CX and clinical colleagues to every problem. The design framework was particularly key in the delivery of the NSW Health Vaccination Centre,” Taggart says.
Hungry to make a difference
During COVID it was the team’s ability to collaborate internally and externally to deliver value.
“We worked across government agencies as you would expect. What people may not expect was the work we did with hotel chains, airports, the major airlines, and supermarkets to pull together digitally enabled services.
“We worked with smaller independent vendors as well as major multi-nationals around the clock to make it all happen. It almost broke us, but at the end of it all we have been left with trusted partners who want to innovate with us. The digital health team now have the skills and confidence to jump into any challenge they face and we’re hungry to make a difference,” says Taggart.
Taggart says the SLHD has long recognised the benefits that IT can provide with a board and executive that has supported major investment over many years. His position as CIO continues to be elevated and he has been made a permanent part of the senior executive.
“During the pandemic, I worked alongside some of the most senior executives from across NSW Health and other state and national agencies to develop digital strategies for the COVID response,” he says.
“Technology is what helped us get through the crisis and my team were at the very front line.”