COVID-19 has taken ICT-led healthcare in NSW to the next level, a technology summit has heard.
With 50,000 staff looking after 8 million people, NSW Health is the largest public health system in Australia.
Not surprisingly, it found itself at the centre of the national pandemic response, the AWS summit heard on Wednesday.
Digital scale, speed and agility were essential in the first days of the response, NSW Health CIO Zoran Bolevich said during a panel discussion on emergency response.
“Our initial focus in those first few days of the pandemic response was to ensure our emergency response was IT enabled and had all the tools and information that decision makers needed, and time was of the essence,” he said.
“We accomplished in a few days what would usually take three to four months.”
The logistics were huge. Some 80 health staff had to move into the RFS centre at Homebush and be connected to the digital health infrastructure within days.
Large numbers of staff who had shifted to working from home also needed access to systems, and video conferencing had to be offered to patients who were no longer able to access face-to-face services.
NSW Health’s video conferencing platforms experienced an 18-fold increase in use compared to pre-COVID times, Dr Bolevich said.
The department was able to automate the delivery of test results so they were sent directly from Pathology NSW to people who had undergone a coronavirus test via an SMS textbot, streamlining waiting times and freeing up valuable work hours.
“It’s an entirely automated process which cut down the waiting time from days to hours,” he said.
“These are the things that will be the lasting legacy of this otherwise pretty terrible situation. We are developing plans and strategies to really take virtual care and telehealth in NSW to the next level” – NSW Health CIO Zoran Bolevich
In clinical practice, Sydney Local Health District remotely monitored COVID patients in their homes using video consultations and biometric devices to measure blood oxygen levels.
“We have been able to very safely look after these patients in the comfort of their home and ensure the safety of health care workers,” he said.
Investment in digitising health pays off
Dr Bolevich said the COVID response showed that the investment and effort put into digitising NSW health over the last five years by the department’s eHealth unit had paid off.
“Our networks, data centres, back office system and clinical systems all performed exceptionally well and enabled the health system to continue functioning,” Dr Bolevich said.
He said it was also critical that NSW Health, which is a customer of the US cloud computing giant Amazon Web Services, was able to park some of its increased in the cloud.
COVID-19 would have a lasting legacy on how technology is used in the health system, from the workfore to clinical settings, Dr Bolevich said.
“We have enabled a lot of staff to work from home now,” he said.
“Technology has ensured they have the ability to continue operating and we hope some of this flexibility will be retained in the post-covid era.
The pandemic has also seen telehealth move into the mainstream, he said.
“As disastrous as COVID has been, it has also been a really useful leverage point and trigger for health.
“These are profound changes that we need to seriously consider.
“These are the things that will be the lasting legacy of this otherwise pretty terrible situation. We are developing plans and strategies to really take virtual care and telehealth in NSW to the next level.”
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