How Covid-19 broke digital transformation barriers in the HSE

25 Sep 2020

Yvonne Goff. Image: HSE

The HSE’s Yvonne Goff discusses the importance of data-driven decisions in healthcare and how Covid-19 has brought IT to the forefront of the sector.

Having previously worked as the HSE’s chief clinical information officer, Yvonne Goff now works as director of the integrated information service and scheduled care transformation programme.

She has more than 20 years’ experience in healthcare as well as significant experience in leading technology-enabled transformation programmes. She was recently awarded a fellowship of the Analytics Institute of Ireland at the 2020 Analytics & AI Awards for her contribution to the sector.

‘The silver lining of the crisis has been that it has really transformed our digital transformation projects’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

I wear several hats within the HSE – I lead both the integrated information service (IIS) and the scheduled care transformation programme. The IIS provides timely, meaningful insights for the organisation to drive better decision-making and to ensure maximum value is derived from the data that is collated across the organisation. Additionally, IIS creates and maintains policies, standards and governance around the HSE’s data.

The goal of the scheduled care transformation programme is to tackle increasing waiting times for patients and diagnostics. One of the first things I’ve taken on is a capacity and demand analysis, so it’s very case-driven, looking at the evidence to inform our decision-making.

As a leader, I try to inspire my team to be innovative and creative in order to respond to the challenges the organisation faces using technology and information.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

On 29 February, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) confirmed the first case of coronavirus in Ireland. By 4 March, the first cluster of coronavirus cases was confirmed when a family of four tested positive. The next day, the HSE confirmed the first case of community transmission.

Recognising the need to organise and respond to the developing situation, the HSE established the national Covid-19 management team on 6 March. At that point and immediately afterwards, they knew we needed situational awareness to manage the crisis. So the IIS received a request to create a dashboard that consolidated information from across the HSE to give a clear line of sight into the evolving situation and the HSE’s ability to respond.

That situational awareness needed to be driven by data and facts, not anecdotal evidence. We integrated more than 40 different data sources from across Ireland, so everything from your lab data to your referral data to your contract-tracing data, to your critical care data.

The dashboard provided visibility of the prevalence of the disease, its impact on resources and capacity in the system, which aided planning. Additionally, the information delivered allowed members of the Government to make decisions about how to move through our reopening phases. It also provides clear views on testing capacity, turnaround time and how well our contact-tracing operation is running in order to give the economy the best chance to recover.

As we look ahead to the recovery, we can now use the platform that was built to enhance the delivery of information across the HSE from emergency department care to scheduled care.

How big is your team? Do you outsource where possible?

The team of 30 is primarily comprising HSE resources and we augment the team with resources from our delivery partners when required. Building up the necessary skills and capability in-house is something I am an advocate for.

We would have everything from architecture, integration, policy, support people as well as data scientists who are really able to look at the data in a different way and see the patterns in the data.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how it will change the health sector?

If I’m being critical, unfortunately our maturity level would be quite low in health in Ireland and the silver lining of the crisis has been that it has really transformed our digital transformation projects and where we’ve focused our energies on. It allowed us to be very disruptive and it allowed us to be agile and remove some of the barriers that took us years to work our way through.

For example, in the Covid-19 project, using cloud technologies the team quickly developed a data lake and corresponding environments that would have taken weeks or months in the past.

Our digital transformation has come on in leaps and bounds because the cultural fear of change has been removed and allowed us to drive forward the digital agenda. I hope the momentum that we’ve had thus far will continue and I think it will because I think people aren’t as fearful.

Digital transformation cannot be solely focused on technology. It is critical that people are at the heart of any digital transformation initiative. We strove to quickly put dashboards in the hands of executives to drive rapid adoption and to receive feedback for future iterations of the product.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing in the health sector from an IT perspective?

The Covid-19 crisis has forced organisations to embrace remote working and a more rapid adoption of online collaboration tools. The core team working on the Covid-19 dashboard in the IIS is spread geographically from Waterford to Donegal.

Typically, this team would have come together in person for development, whereas on the Covid-19 project the majority of the work was done remotely with collaboration supported by the use of Microsoft Teams.

More specifically in the analytics space, as organisations embrace digital it will result in vast amounts of additional data being collated. As a result, I believe the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will become more prevalent. Both AI and machine learning are no longer niche applications and their use cases are unlimited.

Where organisations have massive amounts of data, AI can help find and understand the patterns in it. Embracing such technologies will force organisations to build new capacity and capability across their IT functions and workforce.

One of the things that has become very clear is that people have realised how important the data is and the interpretation of that data and the insights and information that data gives. I think that will become a fundamental part of our ‘business as usual’.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on we can better protect data?

Educating the workforce is key when it comes to better protecting data. Traditionally, data was often seen as something owned by IT.

New regulations such as GDPR reinforce the need for every individual and part of an organisation to play a part in understanding how and why data is being used. Put simply, before acting, individuals need to ask themselves, ‘How would I feel if it was my data?’

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