Technology – a blessing or curse for the wellbeing of our healthcare workforce?

Can technology be leveraged in ways that help our healthcare workforce, including to get the work-life balance we all seek?

Kate Reid is the chair of New Zealand Health IT (NZHIT).


It is hard to believe, as we head into March and autumn approaches, that only two months ago most of us were enjoying some well-earned relaxation over the holiday break. Like many of you I am sure, I did quite a bit of reflection over this time about how to achieve a better work-life balance and whether that is even possible.

Everyone I speak with is busy being busy. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you are working in a public health setting or industry, workload has gone crazy. Throw a global COVID-19 outbreak into the mix and it seems that finding a realistic pace to our working lives is out of reach.

The healthcare workforce responds extremely well to a crisis. We are used to having to manage the unpredictable, make decisions on the fly and work with the very limited resources we have at the time. But imagine a world where technology could take away the mundane – the administrative burden that ties us to our desks – and frees us to be more effective in our chosen professions.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners revealed in its 2018 Workforce Survey that 47 per cent of New Zealand’s existing GP workforce plans to retire in the next decade and 26 per cent of GPs rated themselves high on the burnout scale.

Interestingly, they found that older GPs may consider delaying their retirement if they were able to have longer and more frequent holidays, and longer appointment times with fewer patients to see per day.

Leveraging technology for workforce support

The obvious question here, is how can technology help our healthcare workforce with this challenge?

Without a doubt, at home and at work, our lives are surrounded by innovations and technologies that are rapidly transforming the way we will consume and deliver healthcare in the future. The challenge we are facing is how to leverage these technologies to better support our healthcare workforce, to attract and retain talented individuals and to ‘future ready’ them for the technology transformation that is already upon us.

In order to cope with ever-increasing demands and an overstretched workforce, we need to change the way we work and adopt new ways of doing things. Innovation continues to outpace adoption and, while we might cope well in a crisis, we inherently don’t like change.

Resistance to change often comes from a fear of new technologies replacing our roles or a belief that we have insufficient technical fluency.

Learning to embrace change

Interestingly, although the future of work and the workforce is facing dramatic change globally, data from the United Kingdom shows that this transition, with adequate upskilling, should not be feared but embraced.

  • Over the past 15 years, the United Kingdom has benefited from a technology-driven shift from low-skill, routine jobs to higher-skill, non-routine occupations.
  • About 800,000 jobs have been lost, but nearly 3.5 million new ones have been created.
  • On average, each job created is paid approximately £10,000 per annum more than the lower-skilled, routine jobs they replace, resulting in a £140 billion net boost to the economy.

Historically, our health system has managed demand by adding ‘head count’. It is well understood that this alone will not allow New Zealand to meet the ongoing pressures on the delivery of health services.

This doesn’t mean a reduction in the health workforce, but more effective models of care are created that makes the best use of the people already in the sector, while enabling greater planning and identification of where the pressure spots are going to be in the future.

Three key areas to optimise

Underpinned by technology and digital assets, there are three key areas where New Zealand healthcare organisations can focus their efforts to optimise their workforce for the future of work.

  • Where can virtual work, distributed work, remote work or redesigned workplaces be deployed to induce greater productivity?
  • Who can do the work across the workforce ecosystem – from traditional full-time and part-time employees to contractors, freelancers, gig workers and crowds?
  • What work presently done by humans can be complemented by smart machines and automation using technology advances?

NZHIT is at the heart of a vibrant ecosystem, and we are in a wonderful position to effect change. Given the importance of our healthcare workforce, this topic is likely to be a key component of our upcoming NZ HealthTech Opportunities Report, so watch this space and help us shape the future.

Potential for work-life balance

We have a tremendous opportunity to digitise the flow of work, to automate processes and improve productivity and satisfaction and ultimately support our healthcare workforce deliver better health outcomes for all New Zealanders. Who knows we might even manage to find that elusive work-life balance we are all searching for.  

As I write this blog at 11pm, certainly not getting the balance I’m seeking, I’m wondering whether I should take heed of Arianna Huffington’s advice on how to succeed by getting more sleep … a great bedtime read. Goodnight. 😊

Originally posted to eHealthNews.nz home page

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