New Chief Digital Officer developing a bold new digital health strategy

Duska Kennedy

Creating a connected, patient-centred community health system 

When it comes to North York General Hospital’s (NYGH) Digital Health strategy, Duska Kennedy is thinking beyond the hospital’s seven sites. As the new Chief Digital Officer (CDO), Duska’s vision includes building on North York General’s extensive electronic medical record (EMR) system, expanding virtual health care, connecting IT systems across the North York Toronto Health Partnership and providing patients with digital health tools that not only track and monitor their health but can also feed their data back to health care providers. 

Duska joined NYGH as the CDO in early June, while NYGH was in full pandemic mode. Although it was a challenging time to start, her 15-year career in health care technology and multiple senior leadership roles at the University Health Network, one of Canada’s largest academic teaching hospitals, have proven her ability to thrive in all situations. 

“COVID has been incredibly difficult for so many people but it has shown us that we can work quickly in health care to change and respond to the needs of patients, their families and health care providers,” says Duska. “Being able to access information electronically, especially on mobile devices, has been critical during COVID and as a result, pushed the health system closer to where it should be in terms of providing more digital options.”

NYGH’s strong partnerships with the community and role in the North York Toronto Health Partners provides a fertile ground to create an integrated electronic health system for the thousands of patients in the region and beyond. The opportunity to build bridges from NYGH’s IT infrastructure into the community was one of the biggest draws for Duska.

“Hospitals are just one part of a patient’s journey in the health care system,” says Duska. “Making that journey more seamless when it comes to each person’s health information will improve the care they receive as well as the system’s over all ability to provide timely, high-quality services.”

To bring her vision to reality, Duska is keenly aware of the challenges that lay ahead. Health care in Ontario is fragmented and the flow of information between providers, in some cases, still includes fax machines. However, a strong focus on technology at NYGH is putting new apps, a health record portal and online access to COVID results directly into the hands of patients and clinicians. One of Duska’s underlying philosophies is that we can’t hold back new technology if patient privacy and security requirements are met.  Technology is rarely perfect which is why it’s important that we try to innovate and get prototypes in front of our staff to rapidly test, learn and adapt.

For her, the future of health care technology must start today and that includes pushing ahead rapidly with the technology gains made during the pandemic. We have seen firsthand virtual care is a viable option for providing different types of services and even though it has only been used widely for the past few months, Duska is ready to see how we can take these digital interactions to the next level.

“We have the momentum to push more innovative technology forward,” says Duska. “We need to be bold and consider options such as wearable technology for patients that track and monitor their health so that when they meet with their health care provider online, there is a more complete picture of the health status to inform decisions around their care. These are really exciting times for healthcare technology, and I can’t wait to see the priorities we establish in our Digital Health strategy take off.”

This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of The Pulse.

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