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CiLN Award 2019 finalist: Robyn Whittaker

Tuesday, 15 October 2019  
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Robyn Whittaker, clinical director innovation at the Institute for Innovation and Improvement (i3), Waitematā DHB and associate professor at the National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland


Judges’ comment


“Robyn Whittaker provides visible and inspiring leadership at local, national and international levels in the advancement of digital technology in the health sector. 


“Her clinical leadership has been underpinned by academic rigour, achieving successful innovation to advance healthcare.”


Nominator quote


“Leading by example, Robyn has become a regional, national and international expert in innovation, clinical IT research and leadership.


“The impact of this leadership is widespread and immense, guiding the future of New Zealand’s digital health system.”




Robyn Whittaker is an honorary associate professor at the National Institute for Health Innovation, where she leads a research programme on health technology, in particular mobile health.


She is regional IT governance leader, chairing the Northern Region’s Health System Design Council, and is a national leader with membership on multiple groups including the NZ Telehealth Leadership Group,  Digital Investment Group and national EHR group.


Robyn has been integral to establishing Waitematā DHB’s Institute for Innovation and Improvement (i3), bringing together the innovation and improvement teams. This has created a methodology of continuous, sustained innovation focused on improving clinicians’ and patients’ experience.


Under her leadership the DHB has become one of the most digital hospital systems in New Zealand, with a national and international reputation for innovation excellence and achievement.


Leapfrog programme


Robyn designed and has led Waitematā’s Leapfrog Programme, a programme of strategic projects that in a relatively short time has seen the successful implementation of  a wide range of digital solutions.


These include ePrescribing, eVitals, voice-to-text technology, eWard Whiteboards, eOrdering, eReferrals, electronic Patient Reported Outcomes Measures, ePatient experience reporting system, telehealth, SmartPage, outpatient flow tool with online patient booking, digital postage, electronic admission and progress notes, and a closed loop eMedicines system.


This has been achieved at a cost of under $10 million, when a comparable electronic health record system costs upwards of $60 million.


The benefits to patients and staff have been widespread including developing  a culture of innovation and readiness for change, identifying and providing roles for clinical IT stars, supporting clinicians to redesign models of care, and applying continuous improvement methodologies with real-time clinical data dashboards and predictive analytic tools.


Her leadership has helped these projects to improve workflow by reducing administration time, effort and wasted clinical staff time, as well as increasing turnaround of requests and orders, improving patient safety and reducing paper in the system.


Developing future leaders


Robyn has developed leadership programmes to identify and grow clinical IT and innovation champions, examples being the i3’s Fellows Programme and the Digital Academy programme.


She has also developed and fostered leadership programmes with external organisations including universities to enable students and postgraduates to get hands-on experience with healthcare.


These programmes have provided the DHB with a pipeline of digital innovation champions, many of whom have established careers with the DHB.


Robyn has led the development of experience-based clinical innovation research at the DHB. She was one of the original designers behind the Precision Driven Health research programme: a collaboration with MBIE, Orion Health and Waitematā as the first DHB partner.


Robyn is on the management team of the MedTech Centre of Research Excellence across five universities and Callagham Innovation, as well as leading a theme and a flagship research project in the CoRE.


She established a partnership with the AUT School of Design, bringing design students into the DHB to experience healthcare and help the DHB design clinical areas and a new surgical hospital.


In conjunction with NIHI she also recently developed and led the first Digital Academy for clinicians at WDHB.


International recognition


Over more than a decade, Robyn has established herself as one of the world’s leading researchers in the mHealth field.


Her research has always been very translational and collaborative, starting with the implementation of the STOMP text messaging for smoking cessation programme and a research collaboration with a leading group in the UK to deliver the same programme in a large UK trial, the results of which were published in the Lancet.


Since then she has gone on to develop and trial many different mHealth interventions, including areas such as depression prevention, alcohol use, cardiac rehabilitation, health information for young families and diabetes self-management support.


The latter study resulted in a paper in the British Medical Journal in 2018, and is being rolled out as a programme in some DHBs.


She won a Harkness Fellowship to the US, based in Washington DC, which established strong links with US research groups and leading health IT thinkers, such as Professor Eric Topol.


Robyn has also supervised a number of PhD students to completion, is lead author of the Cochrane review on mCessation and is an invited expert to the World Health Organization on its ‘Be Healthy, Be Mobile’ strategy, Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence in Health Guidance and Digital Health Technical Advisory Group.


This profile is an edited version of the nomination/s.


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


Read more CiLN Awards 2019 finalists:

Becky George

David Ryan

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