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CCIO works to ensure solutions meet needs of clinicians

Wednesday, 18 July 2018  
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Picture: healthAlliance chief clinical information officer Karl Cole.


eHealthNews editor Rebecca McBeth


Karl Cole was appointed chief clinical information officer at healthAlliance in August 2017 as part of the shared-services agency’s aim to change the way it relates to and listens to its customers, the Northern Region DHBs.


healthAlliance chief clinical information officer Karl Cole believes in involving clinicians from the early stages of IT projects in order to get solutions that meet the needs of those working on the frontlines.


He describes his role as “bringing the DHB thought leadership and clinical and customer views back into healthAlliance about what’s required around informatics to successfully support those outcomes”.


Cole sits on the shared-services agency’s executive team and works with the chief information officer and delivery teams on having that clinical perspective and “keeping it consistent and keeping patients at the centre of everything we do”.


His focus is not on the networks, switches and servers, but on the patient journey and how the patient and clinician experience can be improved.


“Technology is the enabler that supports the region to deliver on its clinical commitments,” he says.   


Project management


Ensuring that clinical inputs are clearly factored into healthAlliance’s portfolio of projects ensures that the clinical benefits are clearly identified and delivered to. Cole’s role in this is essential, as is his involvement in key project steering committees to support projects being safely delivered.


The region has a joined-up direction on the use of technology to deliver better health outcomes. Cole is part of the team responsible for the delivery of the Northern Region information systems strategic plan, with covers Northland, Auckland, Waitemata and Counties Manukau DHBs.


He says the ultimate vision is to have a regional view of patient information available to clinicians that fits their workflow, at the point of care, and also to patients.


“I’m tasked with delivering on the ISSP, making sure clinical input is robust and setting up a clinical systems reference group that’s designed to bring regional thinking together to help shape the direction of projects,” he says.


“The opportunity for us is to use technology and information that supports clinicians to deliver great healthcare outcomes.”


Clinical practice


Cole continues to spend half his time working as a GP in South Auckland. Over the past decade, he has moved around a variety of health technology roles and always thought he would ultimately give up clinical practice and work fully in management.


“But I really enjoy being involved with patients and it gives me perspective, thinking ‘man we have really got to fix this’ when I’m trying to do a referral, or I can’t get hold of someone to help,” Cole explains.


He believes the siloed nature of the health system is leaving patients behind and he enjoys working on solutions to make the system more seamless for patients.


Championing the clinicians


Key to becoming a CCIO has been accepting that he is not always the expert anymore, but that his role is to ensure those people with expert knowledge are involved from the start of projects, Cole tells


Also, he provides an overarching view of technology projects and applications to ensure relevant data can be captured and shared.


“Doctors are used to being the knowledge specialist and having authority, but this doesn’t work like that. It’s about enabling people, making sure they are involved and that there’s a consensus and a decision can be made,” he explains.


Much of his time is spent engaging with clinical champions on technology projects and Cole says being clinical himself helps with those conversations as they speak the same language.


“To be part of the medical culture and skill set, to be able to network and listen to people as required, speak to midwives, nurses, allied health and patient representatives, is important,” he says.


“The system doesn’t want to misunderstand the clinical staff, but some things are very hard to put through formal written requirements, so we need a way of translating what we mean.”


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