A personal story on healthcare innovation

Recently, Dr. Johnny Walker was invited to speak at the MedTech Forum and, as part of this, he was asked to write a blog on the continuing innovation in healthcare. This blog is the transcript of part 1, with part 2 to follow next week. Follow this link to read the original blog, or continue here to learn more of Johnny's adventures in medical innovation.

Never before has there been a more compelling time and a more urgent need to disrupt and transform the way we delivery healthcare to the people of our planet.

I am the son of a wonderfully devoted Australian country GP who later became the country surgeon in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. A father of 8, Dad was seemingly forever on-call and, with the exception of his faithful stethoscope, his scary scalpel and his trusty truck, he had absolutely zero technological assistance. No pager, no mobile phones, no EHR, no teleradiology. He was a truly old school practitioner and a mighty man, dedicated to his calling and adored by his patients.

As a young lad, accompanying Dad in his old truck on long journeys late at night on those windy roads between each of the country hospitals (trying so hard to stay awake and keep my promise to Mum to make sure Dad did not fall asleep at the wheel), I knew there had to be a better, faster, safer, more effective and more efficient way of delivering healthcare.

When my time came, and I followed proudly in Dad's brave footprints, I quietly committed to change the way the traditional hospital based and doctor dependent healthcare service was delivered.

I got my chance years later when I set about exploring the possibility of building a simple tele-radiology system over the old 3K copper telephone system to link small isolated communities distributed over an enormous geographical area. This was not an idea borne without experience, as I had found myself performing obstetric ultrasound scans from the back of a truck in remote parts of Western Australia, in oppressive heat, shortly after completing my degree and qualifying as a radiologist.

Working with pregnant mums to be in an aboriginal community, I encountered two successive mum’s demonstrating signs of significant obstetric complications. I felt completely alone and utterly isolated from peer support, unable to provide the required care that these brave women required. Later, having arranged for the two mums to be transported to the closest regional hospital with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, I knew there had to be a better way of caring for these mums, and all members of these remote communities.

Amazingly, with a little bit of luck and a touch of madness, 6 weeks after first exploring a teleradiology solution, we transferred our first digital ultrasound image from a remote clinic to one of the larger community hospitals in Busselton Western Australia.

We took simple jpeg digital images, captured accompanying digital voice files and electronically transmitted these to a remote transcriptionist who typed out the report, embedded the images and printed it out.

We continued improving on our basic concept to make it better, faster, simpler, safer, and more cost effective, rolling out “Virtual Diagnostic Network” across Western Australia, and eventually worldwide, as part of “Global Diagnostics”.

To truly break into the massive UK market, my wife and I bundled up the family and hopped on a plane in 2002, eventually settling in Ireland in 2007, where we partnered with a local provider to deliver 24/7/365 diagnostic services to the HSE.

Global Diagnostics now spin digital X-rays, Ultrasounds, CT scans, MRI scans and PET-Scans through a secure web-based tele-radiology network to a panel of radiologists around the clock around the world who are awake and alert and review the digital images on high resolution monitors and immediately dictate their report using speech recognition software, which is transmitted to the referring doctor’s desktop or mobile device. The entire process can now be counted in minutes, rather than days or weeks or even months, and this is done thousands of times a day, every day!

I stepped away from Global Diagnostics and was proud to focus on my work at the “coal face” as an interventional radiologist with the Hermitage Clinic, until recently. Remembering my original commitment to change the way the doctor-centric healthcare service was delivered, I thought that perhaps my journey wasn’t yet complete. Maybe, just maybe, I had one disruption left.

From this tiny acorn, Health Founders grew. An international aggregator of innovative thinkers and exponential technologies which focus on disrupting the current doctor-centric, hospital-focused healthcare ecosystem for the better, by changing the focus of care to the home.

I started in medicine many years ago with a commitment to change the way healthcare was delivered, away from the hospital focused and doctor-centric model currently in place. I was inspired by my own father’s selfless and tireless dedication and now I stand at a unique point in our history, where technology and healthcare are becoming increasingly linked to create new ways of delivering care, with an opportunity to change the way we care for the precious people on this magic planet.

Today, my own son sits alongside me and he is mesmerised by the images of patients’ brains and hearts and lungs flashing on my monitor from around the world. Perhaps he, so fascinated by and confident with the technologies available to him today, will be inspired in the same way I was inspired by my father’s work. If so, I hope that he will see further than I could imagine, step forward and continue this journey started in Hunter Valley many years ago.

In the second part of the series, the author will elaborate on Jinga Life project and its potential of changing the healthcare system. 

This blog is part of the MedTech Forum blog series. Dr. Johnny Walker is a speaker at MedTech Forum. Join the online conversation using #MTF2016. More information is available at medtechforum.eu.