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Cloud enables Covid scale-up

Wednesday, 1 July 2020  
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Return to home page editor Rebecca McBeth


Homecare Medical scaled its cloud-based telehealth service to move its workforce to work from home and deal with a peak of 15,000 calls in one day during the Covid-19 crisis.


Homecare Medical chief executive Andrew Slater gave a virtual presentation on the organisation’s Covid-19 response at the Healthcare Conference 2020 on June 25.


In the cloud


He said one of the premises of the service when it was set up was that it could scale up and grow over time.


“We always imagined that as part of being born in the cloud and being in a single operating model, that should the need arise the service could scale up and scale quite rapidly,” said Slater.


However, he had never imagined the level of scale up it has gone through since February of this year when Covid-19 arrived on New Zealand’s shores.


In response, Homecare Medical developed two dedicated Covid-19 information lines: a public information line and a clinical assessment line and clinician advice line.


Its standard health line service and the 1737 mental health response were also responding to Covid-19 issues.


At its peak, the organisation had more than 770 additional staff on board  and on its busiest day dealt with 15,000 contacts, when in 2019 on the same day it dealt with around 800.


“We also offer service and advice via email and Facebook Messenger,” Slater said.


Responding at speed


Staff had to be moved to work from home and five additional contact centres had to be stood up at short notice in order to be able to operate safely under lockdown.


Working with its technology partner, they got the whole organisation working from home, implementing in five days what otherwise would have been a five month project.


“There were hundreds and thousands of additional conversations and all of our quality improvement systems, all of our call review call audit systems and processes were able to scaleup and provide a response,” said Slater.


This experience of delivering enhancements in record time means he is now, “asking the IT team, why does a project take five months when we've demonstrated that we can do it in five days?


“We will continue to have very challenging conversations about how we can speed up some of those implementations and what are the things that we have learned about rapidly responding,” he said.


Health checks at the border


Homecare Medical worked with central agencies to develop an arrival card that had a health declaration to get digital information from new arrivals into New Zealand, which they could then use to undertake welfare checks of those in self-managed isolation.


“Today, we deliver the digital border arrival card and health declaration, which enables contact tracing by ensuring that everyone that crosses the New Zealand border is making a declaration about their contact, potentially with Covid,” Slater explained.


During lockdown, HealthLine also, “became quite a critical part of supporting New Zealanders for non-COVID related health care” and the acuity of consumers increased as people delayed access to their regular healthcare due to fears of catching the virus.


Slater said the telehealth service saw and continues to see a sustained increase in usage by Māori and also in Pasifika and Asian populations.


“What’s been interesting for us is thinking about and looking at how technology and the use of technology can be used to reduce inequity in the health system,” he said.


If you would like to provide feedback on this news story, please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.


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