When you go to the doctor, it’s a normal part of the process that certain figures – your personal health data – are generated: how far away you live, age, weight, even the time you wait for an appointment.
“The numbers in healthcare are extraordinary but grossly underutilised,” says Dr Kudzai Kanhutu, the Deputy Chief Medical Information Officer at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. “A lot of it is just sitting there, it’s like untapped gold.”
Kudzai is passionate about using this health data to improve the way care is delivered in hospitals and address major gaps in equality.
“We have the opportunity to fix some really significant system problems in healthcare,” she says. “For example, people in rural and regional areas often have profound difficulties accessing care. We have people who come from Darwin for a 10-minute appointment to see a specialist.”
Kudzai and her team studied health data on patients travelling to be treated for hepatitis C virus and found that health outcomes were the same for people who video conferenced for their appointments. They calculated an average of 600km of patient travel was saved per video conference.
“It’s been beautiful to start to see an appreciation for what the patient journey really means for a lot of people. When you see it at scale like that, it’s incredible,” she says.
Kudzai has also been mapping any unmet requests for a language interpreter at hospitals.
The hospital can then use this data to offer jobs as interpreters to refugees who speak that language. “In Australia we have large numbers of refugees arriving from other countries, and at the hospital we don’t have a lot of people who speak different languages and can interpret at a professional level. So we’re solving two problems at once!” she says.
– Cherese Sonkkila
Kudzai’s career path:
>> Bachelor of Arts/Science, University of Melbourne
>> Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (Hons.), University of Sydney
>> Masters of Public Health (Informatics/ Clinical leadership), University of Melbourne
>> Refugee Health and Telemedicine Fellow, Royal Melbourne Hospital
>> Deputy Chief Medical Information Officer, Royal Melbourne Hospital
Image credit: Karrie Long & Susan Jury.
Author: Cherese Sonkkila
Cherese is a researcher and science communicator based in Melbourne, Australia. She is passionate about ecology and social science and loves getting out into the field.