Health ICT moves forward in Australia with some great people and best practices

IMG_0940This weekend I’ve settled in Brisbane at one of my favorite hotels, the Stamford Plaza.  It has an ideal location with easy access to the riverfront, City Cat water taxi service, the botanical garden, restaurants, and local area attractions.  When I visited Brisbane around the same time last year, the Stamford was closed due to extensive damage from the flooding that had hit the Queensland area. I’m pleased to report that after renovation to the hotel’s mechanical systems, all is well once again at the Stamford.

After my visit to Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday and Tuesday, I flew to Sydney Tuesday afternoon to meet up with Dr. Simon Koss, industry manager for Microsoft health in Australia.  On Wednesday, Simon and I traveled to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead where we joined other members of the Microsoft account team for the hospital. During our short stay there, I had an opportunity to sit down with hospital CIO, Bill Vargas (right in the photo below), and Dr. Geoffrey Ambler (left), a pediatric endocrinologist on staff.

WP_000691While Australia still struggles with many of the same health ICT issues we face in the United States, particularly around health information exchanges, I always find local instances of brilliance and best practices.  I was extremely pleased to learn from Mr. Vargas and Dr. Ambler how the Children’s Hospital is using Microsoft Lync for administrative collaboration, medical education, and tele-health.  As a tertiary diabetes specialist, Dr. Ambler used to travel great distances to provide support to area primary care clinics and hospitals.  He told me how this frequently involved airplane flights, hotel stays, and lots of time aware from his family.  Now, he is able to support his medical colleagues and their patients in remote rural locations with a tele-diabetes service he developed using Microsoft Lync.  He stated that he and the other medical professionals using Lync are very pleased with the audio and video quality the solution provides as well as how easy and intuitive it is to use.  Mr. Vargas said his current problem is keeping up with all the demand coming from other specialty clinicians and hospital managers who want to incorporate unified communications technology into their own practices and departments.  Since Children’s Hospital of Westmead is affiliated with other hospitals in the region, Microsoft Lync is proving to be popular for board meetings and other administrative functions that formerly required staff to travel between facilities.  All and all, this is exactly why I believe unified communications offers huge strategic value to any healthcare organization.  Most hospitals have barely scratched the surface in exploiting the potential of unified communication and its generous return on investment.

Kangaroo in the wildOn Thursday morning Dr. Kos and I drove to the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales where I was slated to provide a keynote Friday morning for the Australasian College of Health Service Management.  That evening we attended a delightful conference wine tour and dinner at the Hope Estate Winery.  But for me, the highlight of the evening was coming across a family of wild kangaroos at the entrance to the winery property.  I’m sure to my Australian colleagues this is a little like coming across a herd of deer that are all too common in the Pacific Northwest.  Visitors to my home get all excited when they see deer in our yard, but we consider them little more than pests.  However, after five prior trips to Australia, I had never seen wild kangaroos in their natural setting.  So naturally, I asked my hosts to stop the car and let me take a picture.

Although scheduling prevented us from attending all of the ACHSM conference, I really enjoyed some of the presentations I saw Friday morning before and after I spoke.  I was especially impressed by a keynote from David Johnson, CIO of SA Health.  He demonstrated a virtual reality application his team has developed to help hospital administrators and clinicians visualize new buildings and staffing models at the hospital and how technology of various kinds adds value.  The application was created using a popular gaming engine and adapted, in some cases with student help, to visualize various healthcare settings and scenarios.

SerenityDangerDuring a short stopover in Sydney at the front end of the Australian portion of this trip, I stayed at a hotel in Darling Harbor.  The harbor area offers great water views with lots of interesting boats and ships.  There is also significant open space including a lovely Chinese garden in Darling Harbor.  While taking a photo outside the garden, I came across a sign that put a smile on my face.  It seems that even in the most tranquil of settings there is danger all about – in this case from swooping birds.  Reflecting on this, I decided it’s a bit like Health ICT.  Even when things seem to be moving in the right direction  and everything appears to be serene, there is always a chance that someone or some thing will swoop down unexpectedly and take you off center.  You simply have to be prepared to rise above it and keep moving forward.  I think that’s the spirit I’ve seen firsthand among so many of the clinicians, health executives and hospital staff I’ve met here in Australia.

On Monday our work continues with meetings in Brisbane.  Following that, we have events scheduled with customers and partners in Adelaide and then back in Sydney before I return home at the end of the week.

Bill Crounse, MD                 Senior Director, Worldwide Health                      Microsoft 

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