The Moxie Sessions: What our healthcare system could learn from your local vet

Opinion

Vaughn Davis

Orion Health line of business leader, portals and mobile Richard Fraser

The Goat Farm's Vaughn Davis on why doctors should treat their patients like dogs

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Healthcare? Let me tell you about healthcare. When I’m sick – or even when I just need a checkup or some shots before going away on holiday – a text comes from the place I go to, reminding me about the appointment. When I turn up, everyone knows my name. It’s like Cheers. If I even look as if I’m hungry, the receptionist slips me a snack. When I come out, my prescription is up on the reception desk computer and they hand over my pills or whatever right there on the spot – no trips to the pharmacy required.

At home, it’s just as good (but a little more high-tech). Whenever I need my meds, an app buzzes on the phone (it used to go woof, woof but that wore a bit thin). If I don’t move around as much as I should, the data from a wee sensor on my collar goes right to my clinic. And my diet gets looked after too – my internet-connected feeder tells the shop when I need a new delivery of Tux Meaty Bites.

That’s right, I’m a dog. Border Terrier. Call me Spike. Vaughn says I’m the best dog in the whole wide world. I’ll let him pick up the story from here.

Thanks Spike. Good boy. Good boy!

Modern healthcare in New Zealand is pretty impressive – if you’re a dog. It’s pretty good for the rest of us too but there’s a heck of a lot that could be better, especially if we got smarter with technology and connectivity. 

Sound like a problem the Moxie Sessions could tackle? We thought so too! So we invited Canterbury District Health Board’s Stella Ward, Richard Fraser from Orion Health and Crown Fibre Holdings’ Rohan MacMahon to lead the discussion around the generously proportioned kitchen table at Auckland innovation bunker GridAKL.

For Stella, a patient-first view of the world is at the centre of everything she does. “Design a system around doctors at your peril.” (“At your peril!” she repeats just a little menacingly to make sure it sinks in.)

Almost 10 years into a transformation project aimed at doing just that, the Canterbury and West Coast district health boards are attracting international attention, which, of course, means that other local health authorities are now taking a look too. 

Focusing on the patient means working together with everyone from GPs to pharmacists and ambulance staff to keep them healthy and out of hospital, rather than obsessing over headline-grabbing metrics like how many elective surgeries the hospital performed in the last financial year. It’s working, too. Last year alone more than 30,000 people who would ordinarily have been admitted to hospital stayed home instead. 

Part of this success involves sharing of patient data between healthcare providers – more of a challenge than it might appear – and providing trusted health information to patients online to allow them to better manage their own health. 

Although you’d think this was exactly the sort of dragon St Fibre might ride in and slay, Crown Fibre Holdings’ Rohan MacMahon says the technology’s role isn’t quite as dramatic. “Our initial rollout focused on schools, businesses and healthcare – but pretty much all the hospitals already had fibre,” he says. The real upsides, then, come from how the technology and all the other tools in the shed are used.

Orion Health’s [NZX: OHE] Richard Fraser is unsurprisingly a big fan of using technology to help patients but is very aware of the importance of treating patients as people. “We’re looking at it from a customer service approach … how can we make healthcare part of the experience economy.” Waste and inefficiency, Fraser says, is an enormous problem in the sector (up to 30% by some measures). So if people had an experience that meant they turned up to appointments (and were seen promptly), followed their treatment plans and took their medication, the health effects could be far more dramatic than we’d see from, say, increasing funding or discovering a new wonder drug. 

But even the most powerful software platform in the world will fail unless people are willing to use it, he says, and describes watching a doctor take manual notes in a ward meeting when a laptop in the corner (running his company’s software) sat idle because she was more comfortable doing it the old-fashioned way. 

This gap between technology, the patient and the provider was one of the main topics the rest of our discussion focused on. What’s the point in having six months’ worth of Fitbit data if your GP doesn’t know what one is, and your DHB’s system doesn’t have any place to capture it? And how useful is wearable health gadgets in general if the only people who buy them are the affluent “worried well”? 

Healthcare is complicated, and the stakes are high, both at an individual and societal level. But the opportunities for the tech world and the health sector to collaborate are enormous. 

Put the patient first, concentrate on the experience and look beyond the hospital for healthcare, and a dose of connectivity could be just what the doctor – sorry Stella, what the patient – ordered.

While Spike doesn’t use quite all the technology described in the introduction, it’s all available in the real world. The reminder app is called DeFleaMe, the dogfood ordering function is available (in the US) in a range of feeders with Amazon Dash technology and the pet motion tracker is from New Zealand company Heyrex. 

Every month, The Moxie Sessions brings together a small group of business thinkers to discuss ways New Zealand can take advantage of the Internet to boost its national competitiveness. For more, see http://themoxiesessions.co.nz.

Check out the standing invitation, the podcasts and the records of previous events at hemoxiesessions.co.nz, and follow @moxiesessionson Twitter.

Vaughn Davis is principal at social media and advertising agency The Goat Farm.

Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.


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Some great ideas in there. I wrote a column on personal health records about 15 years ago. At the time I had a doctor on both sides of the Tasman and I was concerned that they should at least be able to share notes. It wasn't to be and precious little has changed since then. The technology for electronic records has improved but data privacy and resistance to change are still high. Meanwhile home health monitoring of various kinds is growing hugely but very few doctors have the time or inclination to investigate.

If you talk with medical staff what they want is time saving but even quite recently I heard of a hospital network still running on Windows XP and some other equipment that runs on even older Windows software. The new tech is ready but the budgets are not. Add in the demographics as baby boomers age and we are facing a perfect storm in the health sector or a massive opportunity. Richard McManus wrote a book called Health Trackers that should be on the radar of anyone looking to navigate these changes.

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