Rural Victorian health CIO speaks out on the NBN's impact

Meet Bruce Winzar, CIO of Loddon Mallee Rural Health Alliance and Bendigo Health's Information Services Division, and learn his views on how the NBN will impact the delivery of health services.

“It’s a complete misnomer that you have to be good at maths to pursue a career in computing,” says Bruce Winzar, who has has certainly seen the pace of growth in computing and applications for business grow unabated. This is one of the main reasons he is still stimulated by what technology can do. He started his computing career as a student at Bendigo Institute in 1971 on an ICL 1901 which used punch cards for programming and data input.

Winzar wears two hats, being the CIO of Loddon Mallee Rural Health Alliance (LMRHA) which covers 25% of Victoria ranging from Mildura in the north, which is six hours by road, to the most southerly town in the alliance, Gisbourne.

Winzar is also CIO/Executive of Bendigo Health Information Services Division. He has two offices, provides ICT services to 3500 Bendigo Health staff in 25 different locations. LMRHA is a good test bed for e-health applications as well as providing access to the Victorian Department of Health Healthsmart initiatives.

“We have been fortunate to be a test bed for e-health applications requiring NBN like bandwidth so we know what it is capable of doing in a big remote rural area. It is going to be very helpful for improving patient outcomes in aged, acute and psychiatric care.

“We were aware of the Katoomba to Nepean hospital specialist care pilot and working with Telstra expanded the scope to include access to an EMR. Now we have taken it to the next level with high-speed broadband fibre links using Telstra and Polycom videoconferencing for LMRHA.”

LMRHA has 130 connections, 17 hospitals, five stand-alone community centres and many other allied health providers connected to their wide area network. All are connected to a closed network for health run on high-speed broadband on the Victorian Government’s Government WideBand IP (GWIP) at speeds of between 4 to 100 Mbps.

Before becoming the CIO of Loddon, Winzar spent around seven years in local government and education but hadn’t touched on health until his appointment to LMRHA. “Health is the last bastion that needs to be given a big injection of technology.”

Loddon is the first in Australia to use Telstra’s High Definition (HD) Telehealth system which is coupled with Polycom’s videoconferencing and CERNER INET virtual software which Winzar saw working in a virtual trauma centre in Canada.

Bringing the three together was a real integration challenge. It had been done in a couple of sites in the US but it is not an easy exercise given there are multiple health providers requiring integration to an EMR. The key success factor is that the platform can assess multiple patients in multiple locations in real time.

“One of the main business outcomes is that we have been able to reduce the number of transfers of patients from regional areas to trauma centres in the metropolitan area. And we can also provide a better match of patients to the specialisation of the hospitals. A further benefit is that we are not tying up patient transport and skilled people unnecessarily. Obviously there are benefits for the patient as they can stay in their region and receive optimal patient care from assisting specialists located in metropolitan hospitals.

“We are also improving the knowledge transfer and aiding the professional development of clinicians. Getting the clinicians on board was one of the biggest challenges, with medicine being a relatively conservative field.

“We have a project officer visiting clinicians and educating them on what the system can do as well as encouraging them to use it. As with all staff, changes of medical and nursing staff means this makes education more difficult to sustain.

“The sky is the limit and this implementation is just the forerunner. We have a long way to go in using technology for health.”

Changing pace away from his two positions where he is making a difference is living on a farm where he and his wife breed and race harness horses.

Bruce Winzar is the CIO of Loddon Mallee Rural Health Alliance (LMRHA) and CIO and Executive director of Information Services at Bendigo Health in Victoria. His long distinguished career in information technology has spanned a range of senior positions including initiating the first regional telco in Australia (Bendigo Community Telco) and managing to attract a workforce of 1200 call centre workers to the City of Greater Bendigo that had previously had 200 employees.

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