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Innovation can be as simple as replicating an overseas idea so that it fits with the Kiwi way of doing things, or it can be more complex, such as developing an idea ‘from the ground up’.

It can be as simple as remanufacturing a single-use medical device or as complex as commercialising a new product. Whichever it is, if it is driven by business principles, it is likely to have a bigger overall impact.

That’s the strategy behind Via Innovations, a team set up within the Christchurch District Health Board (CDHB) after the earthquakes 10 years ago. Their role is to foster innovations inside the CDHB’s own system and out into the wider national healthcare sector.

“DHBs are cash-strapped, so often the best ideas are those that benefit the patient and the system, in the short-medium-term. And then we look at it from a national perspective: Could other DHBs use it?” says Dr Helen Lunt who looks after clinical governance for Via.

“We believe that Via creates clarity of thinking. Our focus on business principles helps us decide if a project or idea is a good fit for the Via team, or alternatively whether we can help the innovator find a better route for getting their idea ‘out there’, into everyday practice”.

Lunt says they’re looking at innovations from a range of backgrounds, for example from primary care through to systems efficiencies. “A lot of great innovation ideas are small and incremental; they don’t always need Via and its business thinking. Via’s ideas don’t have to be smart or academic – just useful and that’s where we differ from the university research culture.”

Anya Hornsey (pictured above) is the Innovation Director at Via. “Our goal is to join up each element on the pathway from the idea to a better patient outcome, ensuring we deliver more effective healthcare at a lower cost. We want to get those ideas into, and out of, the CDHB.

“It’s not just a pathway for spread and scale beyond the CDHB or for exiting to commercially viable ventures. It’s an exit for business cases to approve internal adoption, further research or clinical validation. It’s also about reframing ideas – helping people with different ways of looking at the problem and assimilating into existing systems.”

All of this helps with the problem of demand outstripping supply in the public health sector. “We need to do more with less, more equitably, more sustainably and retain an engaged workforce,” says Hornsey.

In May this year, CDHB staff took part in a speed dating workshop on digital solutions presented by Via and Te Papa Hauora Health Precinct. The workshop explored how digital technologies and automation tools could improve healthcare outcomes.

“We also wanted to identify ideas that are likely to echo similar problems in other parts of the health system nationally, increasing the impact that could be delivered from solutions,” says Hornsey.

Clinical Innovation Director Helen Lunt says many of the innovators came with ideas about fixing specific problems within their individual departments, only to find that other departments had similar problems. “The meeting helped to kick-start conversations that explored what cross-departmental solutions to these shared problems might look like.”

With Via’s support Medsalv, a Christchurch company formed to eliminate the growing environmental and financial waste in our healthcare system has just finished a project to pilot the remanufacturing of single-use medical devices.

“Savings from day one helped move the project up the priority list. When Covid began to interrupt supply chains, having a locally remanufactured product became even more important. Both factors helped get the project off the ground quickly.

“As with any other medical device supplier, Medsalv has to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the remanufactured devices they supply through evidence, which must address any stakeholder concerns, and eliminate or manage risks – particularly those associated with the novelty of the concept to NZ. Via played a key role in engaging stakeholders and understanding their key questions, then working with Medsalv to address these early on,” says Hornsey.

This is an example of what Hornsey and Lunt mean when they talk about business principles driving their activities. This project went from business case to return on investment in under six months. Contrast that with development of the Hartwell vital signs simulation system Via is about to launch through the New Zealand Health Innovation Hub (NZHIH).

“Hartwell is a much more complex project and was invented by CDHB staff. It will do more for less than competitive products and it’s scalable. We began in 2013 and entered the traditional pathway – design, testing, patent, market entry strategy, beta units in test markets across Australasia. The final step was approval from the Minister of Health which is critical to DHBs commercialising ventures in the public health sector. We’ll be ready to launch once Covid-related delays are dealt with,” says Hornsey.

An overview of Via’s process

Via works actively with the New Zealand Health Innovation Hub (NZHIH), a Ministry of Health approved vehicle for commercialising innovations that improve health outcomes for New Zealanders and that originate from our public health system. NZHIH is fully accessible to all district health boards (DHBs). It works alongside DHBs and public health innovators to develop new products and services with commercial potential, are based on intellectual property, and improve health outcomes.

NZHIH is also supported by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment as a pooling member in the KiwiNet PreSeed Accelerator Fund programme, and by the Ministry of Health.


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