In a time of generational change across the healthcare sector - driven by advances in everything from telemedicine to the artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics - the COVID-19 pandemic has kicked the sector into overdrive.
For Sandip Kumar, the inaugural Executive Director of Transformation and Digital at Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, it’s been a time of unprecedented opportunity. Kumar, who joined Gold Coast Health close to the tipping point of the crisis, reflects that the most important thing now is to preserve the industry’s momentum. If that can be done, then Kumar and his contemporaries have the chance to make some truly transformative changes to the way technology is leveraged into a better standard of patient care.
“In the midst of the pandemic, we turned the 'should dos' into 'must dos', and now we need to figure out which of those innovations are truly sustainable in a business as usual sense,” he says. “If we maintain that relentless ambition to adopt new and better ways of working at the scale we have done, we're set to do big things in 2021.”
Guiding the Transformation
Kumar’s role, he explains, involves spinning a lot of plates. “It's a really exciting role,” he enthuses. “I have four core streams that I oversee: the Transformation Advisory division, the Transformation Office, the Digital Services branch, and the Health Funding and Clinical Coding Branch.”
The Transformation Advisory Branch places a small, interdisciplinary team of dedicated advisors alongside both clinical and non-clinical staff to identify and solve the kind of complex problems that can arise in a system as complex as a modern healthcare organisation with around AU$1.7bn of annual OpEx. “It's a very new model, which I designed when I started here and just recently implemented,” says Kumar. “Watching the doctors, nurses, allied health, digital advisors and other consultants all working together to gather up all the different problems that arise across those functions and look at all the different ways of solving them is really interesting.”
The approach, Kumar adds, is allowing Gold Coast to not only identify problems that before might have seemed unsolvable, but to approach solving them in new, more innovative and lateral ways. “We're not just solving analog problems with analog solutions, but looking at how technology can help solve problems, as well as whether we can apply different clinical models, or new ways that non-clinical staff can interact with this space,” he explains. “It really works.”
Working in tandem with the Transformation Advisory, the Transformation Office is the power behind the vision the advisory provides. “It’s a team that's focused on figuring out how to deliver change,” says Kumar. “They're executors; trained product managers that know our system, know our methodology, know how to work with our executives, know how to work with our clinical leaders, and know how to execute projects that create meaningful change.” The two functions, working side by side, form an impactful model that Kumar has spent a significant portion of his career developing. Now, he adds, “it's amazing that I've got the chance to implement it.”
Kumar is a relentless driver of change. The new methodologies he’s implemented are proving to be some of the foundational steps on the road to Gold Coast Health achieving the kind of meaningful transformative goals that have been set for it.
“Our digital transformation program agenda has a number of established goals,” he explains. “Number one is to be best-in-class for clinical demand management, both internally and externally. Then, we're also looking at clinical teaming and innovation, value-added corporate non-clinical functions, and becoming a digitally-enabled health service, which where our D24 roadmap comes into play.”
Lumina and GCHKP
“At the Gold Coast Health, we have all the necessary components to really be something different in the technology-driven healthcare world. On site we have a university hospital, which is public. We have a globally-renowned university literally 100 metres down the road. Go 100 metres down the road in the other direction and you have a nationally renowned private hospital. And right beside it, we have an emerging opportunity in the form of a health and knowledge precinct. That's a space in which we're looking to create a truly innovative digital healthcare hub.
“It's a mixture of state and privately owned assets, and what we're looking to do in that space is use it as an anchor to bring digital healthcare innovators of all sizes into our proximity for high-tech industry development, research collaboration and jobs of the future.”
The Road to D24
Gold Coast Health is splitting its digital roadmap, D24, across six key areas: virtual healthcare, data and analytics, digital liberation, digital assets, change management and digital literacy, and its ecosystem of essential technology partners.
“Virtual healthcare is focused on cultivating our ability to deliver care that isn't contingent on the physical placement of the patient and the clinician,” Kumar says. “It’s everything that doesn’t require a face-to-face interaction in a clinic; It's telehealth, remote patient monitoring, population healthcare campaigns - all of that.”
Secondly, Kumar is driving the exploration and adoption of more data analytics capabilities than ever before, in order to help Gold Coast Health not only understand information and make better decisions, but to generate valuable insights into where the organisation is headed.
In order to fully unlock the potential of advanced data analytics, Gold Coast Health is trading heavily on one of its closest and most-valuable partners. “The founders of Healthcare Logic used to work for Gold Coast Health,” remarks Kumar. “They had this concept for a tool that visualised data in a meaningful way that clinicians, rather than just data analysts, could understand and use to make decisions.” Over the course of a partnership so close that Kumar says they might as well be “joined at the hip”, Healthcare Logic has developed its platform into an internationally recognised data visualisation and analytics tool, and Gold Coast Health has been with them every step of the way. “Healthcare Logic is a tool that helps people really understand their business. It helps clinicians understand who's on their waiting lists, whether there's a supply vs demand deficit, theatre efficiency, and so on,” Kumar says. “They provide us with real insight into our business, and we provide them with feedback that helps them evolve their product and take it to the next level.”
Kumar is quick to emphasise just how essential the efficiencies that Healthcare Logic’s marquee product, Systemview, are to meeting growing demand for patient care. “Our demand is far outweighed by our supply. Every minute of lost productivity in clinical time is another minute that someone isn't getting cared for, and Systemview helps us ensure we're helping as many people as possible as best we can,” he says.
Beyond data analytics, the D24 roadmap is focused on a concept Kumar refers to as Digital Liberation. “It’s a really interesting facet of D24,” he says. “What that means is we're trying to liberate our staff from the need to do mundane tasks, which frees them up to do more high-value work,” something he admits is easier said than done. “If you're a clinician, we obviously want to liberate you from having to spend four days filling out rosters, or hours every day filling out forms, but we also want to liberate our admin staff.”
The fourth area of D24 involves making intelligent choices about Gold Coast’s Digital Assets. “We have ageing buildings and ageing infrastructure, both physical and digital, and we want to make smart decisions about how to maintain and sustain them in the long term,” he laughs. “We need to make sure we're not bringing technology from 1998 into 2021.”
The fifth stream is, Kumar admits, one of the most essential. Any technological shift, he explains, needs to be met with the right change management strategy. As a result, Kumar is placing a great deal of his focus on ensuring that he cultivates the necessary degree of digital literacy that will allow Gold Coast Health’s staff to embrace digital transformation. “One of the biggest challenges that all CIOs will have to face is not which innovations to adopt, but how to make sure that their staff are ready and able to digest them,” he says. “There's no point serving lamb to a vegetarian.”
Lastly, Kumar stresses how important it is for any digital transformation team to realise that they can’t do everything alone. “We need strong technology partners to help us deliver our digital strategy, think more broadly, and adopt new tools, techniques and resources.”
Maintaining the Momentum
Kumar has a long, ambitious road ahead of him, but he isn’t daunted. If anything, he wants to pick up the pace. “My keystone objective for this year is that we maintain the level of ambition to innovate that we showed in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” he explains. “The willingness and the drive to change is the part that matters most. From board to ward, here at Gold Coast Health, we're completely committed to innovation and digital health. We really look forward to not only driving it ourselves, but partnering at the hip with the organisations who are willing to go on this mission with us.”