Name: Alan PritchardTitle: Director EMR and ICT ServicesCompany: Austin HealthCommenced role: March 2018Reporting Line: Chief information and services officerMember of the Executive Team: NoTechnology Function: 90 staff, 6 direct reports
How better to give critical time back to crucial front-line medical staff than by removing long obsolete technology like pagers?
Going from using pagers and a switchboard to Microsoft Teams as a communication platform may seem like a big technological leap, but under the guidance of Austin Health’s Director EMR and ICT Services, Alan Pritchard, this was a relatively smooth path for the organisation.
From phone tag to IM
Clinical communication in hospitals is most often role-based but an assessment of clinical communication at Austin Health found it was very hard to identify who is performing a specific clinical role at any time. Staff had to rely on the hospital switchboard to find the right person for any given role. And, once the person was found, there were nine communication channels in use, including pagers.
This meant clinical communication at Austin Health was inefficient and time consuming – often requiring multiple rounds of paging and telephone tag for one message to be passed on, distracting frontline staff from direct patient care.
A solution was needed, but no contemporary fit-for-purpose, role-based communication platform existed.
So, in 2021, working closely with clinical staff, and technology partner, FiveP, Pritchard’s technology team developed a new role-based messaging system based on Microsoft Teams.
Austin Health had been using Microsoft Office365 and Teams since 2019, so basing the new messaging solution on those platforms simplified training and change management, and enabled the use of existing security and access credentials.
Since being rolled out across Austin Health in 2022, following a pilot group in 2021, more units and roles, covering more types of clinical communication, were progressively added to the system.
By April 2023 it has expanded to include over 1,000 roles representing 165 clinical teams with 5,948 registered users. The system handles 40,000 messages per month, involving 130,000 message interactions.
The system allows staff working in defined roles to clock into their role at the start of their shift. Other hospital staff can send a message to that role without knowing who is acting in the role.
This has revolutionised clinical communication at Austin Health and significancy reduced interruptions, says Pritchard.
“The solution has given hours back to clinicians every week enabling them to focus on patient care and not on thankless telephone tag.”
The system has also unveiled previously unavailable data, showing:
“This data is extremely powerful and reveals previously unknowable patterns in clinical communication and enables data driven decisions for improvement of care delivery,” says Pritchard.
Overall, the introduction of role-based messaging has enabled Austin Health to improve clinical communication efficiency, reduce the communication workload of clinicians, collect and analyse novel communication data, and improve patient safety.
It also means other types of communication could be retired or reduced with over 300 pagers taken out of service by 40 units.
FiveP has since commercialised the app branding it Baret, and it is now being adopted by several other Australian health services.
An expert co-designer
Spearheading a collaborative development which not only addresses a major industry problem, but also uses an existing enterprise platform, is not out-of-the-ordinary for Pritchard, who colleagues describe as an expert co-designer.
Pritchard seeks to understand the patient care experience at Austin Health – both from the perspective of the patient and those tasked with delivering care. To do this, he makes time to meet with all levels of the organisation to listen, learn and discuss their experiences in delivering care, and takes part in a range of hospital committees and working groups. Plus he also makes sure he is available for more casual chats with anyone in the organisation.
“I find these informal conversations with anybody who wants to know ‘can we do this’ or ‘how do we do that’ incredibly useful – not only to understand the challenges and issues that staff are trying to resolve, but to help shape their thinking about how best to tackle the problem,” says Pritchard.
It follows then that the development of the messaging system did not happen in isolation, since Pritchard’s technology team partnered with clinical teams to solve their problems.
He is also always constantly looking for opportunities to re-use existing platforms to improve processes and improve communication, and to find ways to use digital tools to free up clinician time for direct patient care.
“Austin Health has a powerful suite of enterprise platforms with which to improve any process across the health service,” says Pritchard.
“Helping people to understand those platforms and how to use them to improve their local area is critical to keeping everybody aligned to the digital strategy and transformation roadmap.”
He is known for encouraging feedback from staff, which he then aligns to the greater vision and strategy for IT integration across Austin Health.
“Alan is constantly linking and refining what we do, and how we do it, which creates a better and better IT solution each time. He’s an amazing visionary and expert in his field, a rare combination that when put in a supportive and trusting organisation, means we are able to achieve amazing things,” says Brynn Lewin, Occupational Therapy Manager and North Eash Melbourne Health Service Partnership Program Director.
Louis van Wyk