Andrew Roberts takes healthcare to new digital frontiers

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From psy-ops to undersea traffic exchanged through the web, Clinix Health Group CIO Andrew Roberts still maintains that it is the upliftment of people that remains his biggest career – and personal – reward.

Clinix Health Group CIO Andrew Roberts’ IT journey spans more than two decades. It began with a learnership at Telkom in the early 2000s, which he took on after completing a BSc honours in computer science at Rhodes University.

Then he became a software engineer and later a partner in a management consulting business. He is now CIO at a healthcare provider, which has been a “baptism of fire”, especially of late.

Being a CIO in the private medical space for the last 18 months has proven to be a whole new ballgame. With plenty of talk about the implementation of South Africa’s version of universal healthcare, namely National Health Insurance (NHI), it has been a challenging and anxious time, admits Andrew. The NHI is expected to be implemented within the next five years and with it comes the potential to massively disrupt the private healthcare sector.

However, he says it’s been an interesting journey, as working in the medical industry is “fundamentally different”, even down to how the medical fraternity speaks and interacts.

“You have to use the medical terminology, the lingo, and relate it back to doctors’ jobs, because it’s hard to sell an innovation or investment through an IT or commercial lens to medical specialists,” says Andrew.

Co-creation is critical

According to Andrew, cybersecurity is now a given and a core function that his team manages at Clinix. There’s also significant emphasis on Big Data and automation – and these aspects don’t come without their challenges, considering it’s within the medical space.

“The reality is that we’ve started implementing automation because it ensures the consistency and predictability of patient, or customer experience,” he explains. “For example, if we find that a patient should have a higher level of care, we prompt that through the system.”

“We now look at triggers, like vital signs, and current health conditions (through what is medically termed as TISS scoring). We look at all that information and allow the system to recommend the level of care based on triggers that then aligns to the coding and that corresponding prescribed path of care. This has become a point of controversy,” he adds.

Andrew adds that there’s considerable dissonance between using technology like AI to drive more efficiency and consistency rather than a traditional appraisal based on human experience.

“I think, in time, it will gain more favour, but right now it’s met with resistance, not in the adoption of the technology but in the fear of losing control. There’s no risk of becoming bored in this industry, because there’s a lot of technology that’s now based on a digital-first engagement rather than digital enablement. This is going to be an interesting space to follow, particularly in private healthcare and the NHI,” he explains.

For Andrew, co-creation is critical, and any technology that’s implemented won’t succeed unless everyone is involved and feels heard. “Ask the nurses, ‘What can we do to help you? What can we assist with from a technology perspective to remove some of the mundane work? To actually empower you?’ We did that where we implemented a platform with a tablet that had the functionalities the nurses wanted – not what we wanted. And lo and behold, we went from a five percent utilisation to 97 percent,” he says.

Andrew emphasises that if a technology team can optimise how someone does something, that person is more likely to drive the adoption themselves. That will pay off the dividends of what the team, and the business, want to achieve.

“The biggest change happens when I’m on site getting involved, walking the floors and listening to people,” he points out.

Passionate about people

Andrew believes the key to solving this problem lies in mentoring and coaching. For him, a retention policy should mean the person must feel valued and that they can learn something from the business through engagement. He believes so strongly in this that he has instituted mentoring and coaching as 25 percent of KPIs, evaluated monthly and irrespective of role and level.

“I’m deeply passionate about the people side of IT; that’s what gets me out of bed. The most rewarding element of my job is to see people grow and take the initiative, and there’s nothing that could ever compare to the reward that comes from that,” he adds.

Boots on the ground

Being passionate about people and upliftment, Andrew is also involved in Black Umbrellas, an entrepreneurship incubator partnered with the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation. Here, he conducts seminars and coaches in IT and digital marketing. He has also been an active SANDF reservist for the past 15 years and attends training and deployments occasionally. He’s even a member of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR), a military reserve officer organisation that advises and supports NATO on reserve matters and services.

“That’s been interesting on the cybersecurity front, especially with what NATO does to safeguard the undersea traffic exchanged through the web. It’s a hot topic right now in terms of psy-ops, with the fear of information being leaked.”

An avid runner and triathlete, Andrew says keeping fit helps him not only be ready for “surprise SANDF fitness assessments”, but also helps him stay grounded in his personal and professional life.

“A lot is happening in our country and world right now, and we’re just grappling with everything,” says Andrew. “One needs time to reflect because you need energy to empower and motivate your team. It’s a balancing act, but you must tap into that energy so you and the business can succeed,” he concludes.

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