Tackling The COVID-19 Pandemic with Bret Morris – Chief Digital Officer SA Health

By James Banister


What was SA Health’s initial response and how has SA Health tackled COVID-19?

One of SA Health’s major long-term objectives is to achieve access and equity for all patients. As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Australia, SA Health had to switch to a ‘work anywhere’ model to ensure that all Australian patients could access the healthcare system in the new and challenging circumstances. There was a critical need to undertake changes immediately to meet the community requirements. ”There was no guarantee that we wouldn’t face issues or that we would be able to provide a working unified communication and collaboration platform” Bret Morris explained.  SA Health was working every day to flatten the curve and optimise their systems to work more efficiently.

Every change that was implemented was based on the needs of the business as opposed to reactive IT changes as a result of technology failure. There was a sudden need to remove the dependency from working in an office environment and design a successful ‘work anywhere’ model.

What were the biggest challenges that SA Health had to overcome?

Overcoming the risk-adverse nature of the department and experiencing problems because of rapid change was a big obstacle for SA Health. Morris said “COVID-19 gave us a single focus on a single enemy”. IT was now actively involved with the rest of the business in trying to flatten the curve.

Another challenge was giving clinicians the ability to work anywhere. For example, there are workers who regularly visit aged care facilities. This could not continue; nobody could go and visit the residents which makes it very difficult to try and access IT resources within those aged care facilities. This made SA Health question their approach of needing physical access to records systems and to look for a cloud based alternative.

How has COVID-19 affected the rate at which new technology has been adopted across the business?

The introduction of the Telehealth network provides the technology for clinicians and patients to communicate face-to-face from different locations. Remote patients are able to receive health services conveniently, reducing time and travel requirements.

Prior to COVID-19 Telehealth was only used in regional communities. However, it was clear that face to face interactions in a clinical environment would become challenging with COVID-19 and the complications that it brings with it. Telehealth was implemented and up and running at one of Adelaide’s major health care clinics in just over a week. “In the first two days the technology had clocked up 54 hours of clinical time” Morris explained. By this measurement alone it was clear the uptake was immediate.

A distinct change as a result of COVID-19 was the clinicians were now driving the change required by the IT function to overcome the restrictions that the virus had imposed on SA Health’s ability to provide healthcare. The increase in COVID-19 specific cases meant that there was a need for increased clinical results tracking, specifically, getting positively identified cases in one centralised place where clinicians could access this information almost instantly after it becomes available.

How has COVID-19 highlighted the important role of technology and the teams that manage it?

It can be challenging for technology related roles to see the subsequent effect of their work when it comes to the care that the patient receives. “What COVID-19 has done is show the people behind the scenes, that their work is having a direct impact on the care patients receive” Morris explained. An example of this is the Oracle technology team who manage the databases for SA Health. One of the databases stores the information needed to effectively manage the supply of personal protective equipment for health staff on the front line fighting the virus.

In what way has COVID-19 changed the healthcare industry moving forward?

What has been proven through the management of the COVID-19 pandemic is that rapid successful change and innovation is possible. There were numerous challenges that required a quick and effective solution in order to combat the risks and dangers that emerged with COVID-19. “It’s very easy to allow big procurement models to become long-winded again” Morris explained. It’s important that we keep future procurement delays to a minimum. A new benchmark for what is expected in relation to achieving outcomes in shorter time frames has been set and its critical that SA Health maintains this momentum moving forward.

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