Robyn Whittaker, Clinical Director of Innovation at Waitemata District Health Board

Robyn describes her job as working with “the most amazing team of people from across the organisation – these are star ‘do-ers’ who love to solve problems and make change happen within our health services.”

Her day in the Institute for Innovation and Improvement might include supporting new ideas from staff into practice, working with industry partners, or building academic partnerships (like the MedTech CoRE). She also manages the Leapfrog Programme of large strategic innovation projects for the district health board (DHB).

Robyn has been part of MedTech CoRE since its inception and a theme lead in Digital Health.

“I am Principal Investigator on a new flagship project aiming to build an adaptive personalised mobile phone-based pulmonary rehabilitation programme for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
When it comes to the challenges of healthcare and the role of technology, Robyn believes we need new models and that these often require culture change.

“The northern region DHBs have recognised that we need to move to new models of care for looking after people outside hospitals, in clinics, in the community, and in their homes.

“We’ll need better, smarter, more connected and integrated health information systems to better support clinicians and other health workers from multiple organisations, and to better support our patients and populations to manage their health.”

However, introducing such change requires significant culture shifts.

“There’s resistance to change within large bureaucracies and medicine is a particularly conservative environment. We need substantial evidence of improvement (and absence of harm) of health outcomes for our patients.

“This makes for a very high burden of proof for small start-ups or researchers. It also means we must have the appropriate time and resources to change clinical workflows and practices.”

There are also limitations on what can be done, as DHBs are bound by government rules and regulations.

“Government rules on procurement are an example I often use to illustrate the impediments to partnering for the co-design and co-development of a new solution. Once we have developed something, we must to go back out to market, and that can be slow and laborious. I’d like to investigate the possibilities around new pathways to support DHBs to be more involved in innovation.”

This is where the Institute can act as the front door into Waitemata’s health services for companies and researchers, matching them with the right clinicians.

Even with such limitations, the DHB has been introducing innovative technology.

Smartpage is a smartphone-based paging system developed by a junior doctor. The DHB was the first reference site and provided substantial input from staff into further development while it was used as the after-hours house surgeon paging system. The DHB adopted Smartpage for orderlies and is now extending to 24/7 paging for doctors within its hospitals.

By Prue Scott

Robyn Whittaker