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Raising the profile of allied health

Tuesday, 26 February 2019  
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Picture: Canterbury DHB allied health informatics clinical lead Rebecca George editor Rebecca McBeth


Five years into her part-time role as clinical lead for allied health informatics at Canterbury DHB, Rebecca George has become a recognisable figure on the health informatics scene, determinedly promoting allied health at every opportunity.


Rebecca George is passionate about raising the profile of allied health and sees informatics as key to achieving that.


She sits on the board of Health Informatics New Zealand and is chair of the National Allied Health Informatics Network, which has 40 members.


She also chairs a Canterbury DHB and West Coast DHB allied health informatics group to “try to reduce duplication and share learnings”.


“I’m extremely passionate about bringing visibility to allied health and the value and impact we have with patients,” she says.


“Patients share with us the difference we make in their lives. We know we’re making a difference, so it can be frustrating when we can’t communicate this impact to managers of health organisations in an evidential way.


“That’s what drives me on a daily basis.”


A developing role


George is an occupational therapist by background. She trained and spent her early career in the UK, working across a variety of clinical services, including primary, secondary and acute care as well as rehabilitation services.


She moved to New Zealand after marrying a Kiwi and worked in a range of services at Canterbury DHB. She ended up on the acute services side, “welcoming the opportunity to contribute to developing systems and systems change”.


When a project management role overseeing data collection came up, she jumped at the chance and has developed the role into becoming the DHB’s acute site’s clinical lead for allied health informatics.


“The role came about as a very natural evolution, alongside the focus of addressing data and how we’re using it,” she tells


Staying close to the ground


Despite not having a traditional background in IT, George says she took to the digital aspect of the informatics function comfortably.


She says in order to get the resource to engage in this area, such positions within allied health services are often called clinical quality or service improvement leads, but they often incorporate overseeing data collection and digital technologies.


Key to being a clinical informatics lead is the need to continually speak to people working on the ground.


She still does some clinical practice when she can and remains “deeply immersed in contact with clinical leaders and clinicians”.


“You often find yourself playing the role of interpreter between the clinician and technical roles within an organisation,” she says.


“Without this role, things can get lost in translation. It’s very important that the solutions and developments being built to benefit allied health clinicians are based on their actual work and needs.”


A new standard


In 2013, George helped created a working group that has developed an allied health data standard for New Zealand.


This defines the minimum data set to be captured by allied health staff in DHBs to record patient-related clinical activity and involved a national audit of the data each DHB is currently collecting.


“We can’t wave a magic wand. We have to start at square one, saying ‘what data do we need and what systems do we need for analytics?’,” she explains.


She says the standard was created because of inconsistencies in the data collected by the allied health profession and the lack of visibility of this data. 


The new standard was published in March 2018 and the National Allied Health Informatics Network is now focused on implementation.


Three early adopter DHB sites are carrying out a gap analysis to determine what patient-related clinical activity is not being collected and what needs to happen to meet the standard.


Hope for the future


George was cheered by the recent appointment of Martin Chadwick as the first chief allied health officer at the Ministry of Health, as he is a keen advocate for allied health informatics.


“I’m hopeful that with the new chief AH officer, informatics will have a significant profile across AH scientific and technical, supporting organisations to employ staff into these roles,” she says.


“These roles can then develop and use an evidence base of patient outcomes and system measures. By identifying the service demand and capacity drivers, this information will support service development and resource allocation, ultimately tailoring services to benefit the patient.”


Read more in the Clinicians in Digital Health series:


Andrew Miller: A personal perspective on patient-centred care

Kerry Macaskill-Smith: Clinical need drives development of general practice software

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