For almost five years, I have been submersed in the U.S. healthcare sector. In that time, I have been fortunate to engage directly with executive leadership at some of the top ranked health systems in the world. I have attended my fair share of conferences, big and small, where the future of health delivery has always been a central focus of all the speakers. Robotic Process Automation, Digital Therapeutics, Virtual Hospitals and, without fail, AI, AI, AI.
When I am back home in Ireland, I often find myself discussing the future of healthcare delivery with colleagues and associates up and down the country. I recount all kinds of stories from my time in the U.S., where at many hospitals the rubbish is removed by a robot, referrals and health records are digitised, and that they aim to answer their phone within less than 45 seconds. I frequently get questions from family and friends as to why in Ireland we still need to carry a handwritten note from a doctor to a hospital or must wait at up to fifteen minutes for a phone call to be answered. I think we could all agree that there is a major demand for improvement.In recent weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of change and innovation in healthcare across the globe has been a stark contrast to the norm. Many patients have experienced their first virtual visit, have received care notifications via text message, and have bought/dusted off Apple watches, Fitbits, Garmin’s etc. to record how quickly they could run 5km. This new normal opens a magnitude of possibilities for future wellness and healthcare delivery models in our country.
Leaders in Ireland have moved quickly and commendably to meet the care delivery needs of patients and those hot topics, until now reserved for visionary conference talks, have come to fruition in a matter of days rather than years. In my world at RelateCare, I have been astonished by the pace in which my colleagues have worked to deliver solutions. We have worked hard to put the healthcare contact centre front and centre of our partners COVID-19 response. We have helped patients prepare for their first virtual video visits, we have spun up emergency COVID-19 hotlines within 36 hours and are now poised to help organisations roll-out pre-visit questionnaires, contact tracing and help them cope with appointment waitlists which have no doubt been further amplified by the pandemic.
While the long hours and long nights may not be sustainable for all, I am often reminded of the Executive Director of the WHO Dr. Michael J Ryan’s statement from March where he said during times like this ‘speed trumps perfection’. I think there is a lot to be learnt from that idea. While we may have experienced bumps along the way, there is no doubt that people quickly collaborated and rowed together for the greater good. As we look ahead, organisations like ours have so much to offer when it comes to bringing core competencies and expertise from other markets to drive process improvement and innovation within the Irish market.
It has been incredible to see so many of the innovators and health-tech start-ups that I have met over my career finally gain traction in their home market. For this, we must commend Irish healthcare leaders for challenging inertia. As we look forward, we must challenge ourselves to do and want more, and not just in times of crisis. Many often argue that healthcare has notoriously lagged behind other industries in terms of innovation and pioneering new ways of doing things. The reason for this is understandable: lives are on the line, so risk comes with a heavy cost. Collectively, we know that change is necessary, and that it has often been perceived the enemy by both patients and care providers.
These past few months, while challenging and difficult, has proven that there are alternative ways of doing things and that the public will adapt to new norms quicker than we have imagined. It is now time for us to ride this wave of change here in Ireland and leverage the great minds and innovators we have at our disposal. The challenges we face are complex and will not be fixed with a magic wand but let us utilise the incredible momentum and willpower of this time to continue to create a healthcare ecosystem that we can all be proud of.
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Valerie O’Brien is Director of Business Development with RelateCare and is responsible for connecting RelateCare’s suite of value-adding contact center consulting and outsourcing solutions with healthcare organizations across the globe. Valerie achieved a first-class honors degree in International Business from the Waterford Institute of Technology and was awarded the prestigious WIT School of Business Student of the Year accolade in 2015. Valerie is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration (global MBA) in Entrepreneurship and Global Consultancy practices from the University of Aberdeen and has also completed study with the National Association of Healthcare Access Management.