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CiLN: Workforce development crucial for future of clinical informatics

Wednesday, 3 July 2019  
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Picture: healthAlliance regional manager health information editor Rebecca McBeth


Karen Blake is co-chair of New Zealand’s Clinical Informatics Leadership Network, an HL7 board member and regional manager health information at shared-services agency for the Northern region, healthAlliance. She is also a rural volunteer firefighter.


Karen Blake believes in the need for strong clinical leadership in data and digital health services.


She is a co-founder and co-chair of New Zealand’s new Clinical Informatics Leadership Network, which has grown over six months to have more than 200 members, connecting clinicians with a passion for data and digital nationwide.


She has a vision for the future where CiLN is seen as a powerful advisory group, with the capability to lead major projects and influence industry partners and national policy.


“I really believe that workforce development is crucial for the future of clinical informatics in New Zealand,” she says.


“We need the next generation coming up behind us who will sit in these roles and we need to uplift the professionalism and capability of these positions so that they can become integral to every DHB and PHO in New Zealand.


“At a national level, places like the Ministry of Health, ACC and our industry partners should have these roles as well.”


She also believes that in order for digital projects to be successful, clinicians need to get more involved in the procurement process for systems.


“We need to make a shift away from buying solutions looking for a problem, to understanding the problems clinicians and patients have, and finding solutions that respond to that,” says Blake.


“Clinicians can be advocates for change and embrace change and become champions of change.”


Path to informatics


Blake trained as a midwife in Waikato and worked at a number of DHBs including Counties Manukau and Hutt Valley.


But it was while working in Australia in the early 2000s at the Royal Women’s Hospital that she got really interested in health informatics.


The hospital was moving to a new building and introducing a labour and birth electronic medical record and Blake became a super-user of the system.


By using data from the EMR, they could audit labour and birth outcomes, and the hospital was able to make improvements, such as reducing the number of women having their first baby who ended up having a caesarean section.


At Western Health in Melbourne she became the organisation’s first chief nursing and midwifery information officer and started working exclusively in informatics.


“I have always been really passionate about excellence in healthcare and making every woman’s experience the best it can be,” she says.


“When I was working clinically, I could affect the care of one woman at a time. Informatics is about being able to affect care at a macro level by implementing change for everyone in the hospital or everyone in an entire region or across New Zealand.”


Blake also works as a rural volunteer firefighter, attending weekly call-outs in the north of Auckland, of which 60 per cent are medical.


Retaining clinical practice as a first responder, and the ability to talk to paramedics, gives her a ground-floor view of the health system she is working so hard to transform.


A new role


She took up her role at healthAlliance two years ago working in the office of the chief clinical officer Karl Cove. Both are the first in their roles at the shared-services agency.


She says the CCIO title gives the role credibility and it is great to have Cole sit on the healthAlliance executive team as it enables them to enact change at a senior leadership level.


“Often these roles are in isolation, with just one person working across a hospital or health system, whereas Karl and I can work together. We bring differing experience and skills which gives us a richer understanding of how the health system works,” says Blake.


She spends much of her time working on the Northern Region Information Services Strategic Plan, helping with roadmap development, and sits on the programme steering committee for all current major projects at the agency.


“This means we have, from a clinical perspective, a holistic view of what we are doing, which is important,” she says.


Advocacy for users


Blake describes her role in the steering groups as providing a clinical perspective to help the technical staff understand how it’s going to impact clinicians at the bedside, working on the wards.


“It’s about relating the needs of our clinicians and that is probably one of the harder things to do. It means I have to spend a lot of time networking across the four DHBs, but CiLN has really helped with that,” she says.


“I spend a lot of time advocating for clinicians at healthAlliance and advocating for patients so their perspective becomes central to the work the organisation does,” Blake explains.


This might involve ensuring a security policy is set within a health context and questioning how a planned outage will affect clinicians.


Nationally, Blake sits on the digital identity working group and is a board member of HL7, as well as leading a regional data governance group that is sharing expertise nationally.


“healthAlliance understands the need to have clinicians working in the digital health space at a national level and has supported me to do that,” she says.


“healthAlliance is also completely supportive of CiLN because it’s not just looking at it from a local regional level, but supporting us to work nationally as its about developing a workforce for the whole country.”


If you would like to provide feedback on the above feature article please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.


Read more Clinical Informatics Leadership Network features:

Carey Campbell: Nursing director takes lead on EMR project

Ian Martin: Getting clinicians and IT talking to each other 

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