Engineer helping transform the Victorian healthcare system

Damon Grimwood never anticipated his Engineering Degree would land him in the emergency department, but since embarking on a career at Safer Care Victoria (SCV), in a role funded through the Better Care Victoria (BCV) Innovation Fund, he has discovered new opportunities that are transforming the course of his profession. 

Damon took on his role as an industry coach for the Patient Flow Partnership earlier this year, within SCV’s System Improvement, Innovation and Leadership team (SIIL), and has learned a great deal in that time. 

The improvement partnership program takes an innovative approach to improving timely access to quality care in the Victorian public healthcare system. As is the case with Damon, health industry coaches do not necessarily need a healthcare background. The focus is on their capability to deliver strategic thinking and operational solutions, by way of their industry’s unique skill set. This cross-sector approach places coaches in essential roles, addressing a range of aspects of providing accessible, quality healthcare. By being on site in hospital wards, emergency departments, and primary healthcare services, the coaches are able to provide a fresh perspective on how and why things are done, and then suggest solutions to improve service delivery and patient care.

 

"I don't think I will ever lose admiration for the "choreography" of an emergency department for a critical patient."

- Damon Grimwood

 

On the operational level, the coaches provide a fresh perspective to identify challenges with existing processes. By engaging with health care providers, the coaches can actively assist in developing improvements and implementing solutions. In a broader sense, their wide range of skills are a vital component to ensuring the Victorian health care system continues to innovate and improve their strategy. The result is in everyone’s best interests: improved outcomes for health consumers and better service delivery across Victoria. 

For Damon, the experience has resulted in a complete change in the direction of his career. After spending almost 20 years working for General Motors in various roles, including building capability in the Asia Pacific region for young engineers, he was ready for a change. 

“A few years back I completed my Masters of Business Administration, as a way of learning about areas of business that I didn’t get access to in an engineering capacity, to try and find my next opportunity,” says Damon. “I was inspired by a supply chain lecturer who consulted in healthcare. Many of the examples he used were from this industry. I found them really interesting and could see the similarities and benefits that an engineering brain might be able to bring.”

Whilst looking at the various possibilities, Damon immediately recognised the opportunities the Safer Care Victoria coaching role could bring. “The role seemed to combine the best of my General Motors coaching skills with the opportunity of the healthcare industry, so I decided to see if I was up to the challenge.”

Damon was not disappointed and has relished the chance to apply his skills in a new environment.

“Whilst the basic motivations between the industries can be different, the fundamentals of engagement are the same everywhere. The biggest similarity is that the person best placed to improve the work, is the person that does the work. 

“My role is to give health care staff the tools to get that done and to provide other guidance that ensures they are really solving the correct problem.”

So how did this role land him in the hospital emergency department? Coaches have specific allocations in different public health facilities and departments and cover metropolitan, rural and regional areas. Damon’s role is to coach hospital staff across his assigned region. 

“Most of our work in the Patient Flow Partnership starts with a focus in the emergency department,” explains Damon. “We try to understand what each situation needs and then apply the right mix of improvement techniques to get the best outcome: this is really the crux of the role. Improved processes, improved outcomes and an increase in the capability of the staff means they can then go on to do the next improvement task. Hopefully we get better processes as well as better patient outcomes.”

The coach’s responsibility is to increase the capability of the staff, so they can continue to implement improvements as needed and self-sustainably.

 

"I love the feeling of teaching someone something that they didn't know before, the lightbulb moment when you know you have explained it in a way that they will use themselves."

- Damon Grimwood

 

Such a diverse change cannot possibly come without learning experiences for the coaches too. Despite the rapid pace in health services, Damon has been humbled by the approachability of staff.

“I have been surprised by the engagement of some of the staff I have met. They can work a full shift and still make time to discuss improvement ideas with me. It’s something that I’ll never take for granted. A big adjustment for me is really knowing when to talk and when to shut up and get out of the way.” 

The achievements of the coaching teams are many and varied, as are the opportunities for improvement across the Victorian health care system. 

“The pace of delivering healthcare day to day is really fast,” says Damon, “the pace of improvement naturally has to be slower.” 

A key issue that Damon is working on is for health care providers to understand the difference between data and information. 

Damon explains, “In engineering we would always start by identifying a problem and then describing any extra data we would need to prove we had fixed it. Only then would we collect that data. Healthcare is definitely improving in this area but this thought process remains a challenge for many industries.” 

Damon believes there is an exciting future for the industry where innovation is concerned. “Combining the resources of each part of the sector (governance, academia, private and equity) to get the best result will be a fantastic challenge.” 

This is a challenge that can be more than adequately met with innovative cross-sector collaborations such as the coaching strategy used in the improvement partnership program

More information

For more information about the improvement partnership program, please call 9096 2761 or email bcv@safercare.vic.gov.au.

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