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Celebrating the efforts of our PHSA IT Professionals

In recognition of IT Professionals Day, we’re profiling a small sample of projects that showcase the skills and collaboration the PHSA Information Management/Information Technology Services (IMITS) team brings to its work every day.
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​Members of the IMITS team gather at the PHSA office in Burnaby, on Willingdon Avenue. Please note that this photo was taken last summer before the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has brought uncertainty and delays to so many aspects of everyday life. It’s also brought a strong sense of teamwork and focus on a common goal. There’s little doubt that PHSA’s IMITS Team has had to work together even more closely over the past six months to bring their technology projects to life.

With thousands more PHSA employees working from home or in different environments than they did pre-pandemic, simply keeping us all connected and able to continue our work has been a feat in itself.

Add a host of COVID-19-related projects with ambitious timelines and the need to enable patients and families to continue receiving top-quality care in various new ways, and you’ve got a perfect storm of challenging times and high needs.

As we celebrate IT Professionals Day this week, we’re sharing a small sample of stories of a few recent accomplishments of our IMITS Team in a time when demand for their skills has never been higher. They illustrate the complexity and quality of the many solutions developed, particularly since COVID-19 became a big part of our world.

Tracking and tracing the elusive virus

One of the key tools that public health experts will rely on this coming fall to help combat a resurgence of COVID-19 cases is case and contact tracing: the ability to reach out to every person who has a positive COVID-19 result, as well as to call those who may have been in close contact with them in the days leading up to their diagnosis. Known as contact management, IT tools to perform this key work in a coordinated way were pieced together quickly in the hectic early days of the pandemic in our province.

As the number of COVID-19 cases declined through the summer and people began enjoying more relaxed measures, IMITS staff like Jared Penner, IMITS development team lead and his team were hard at work preparing a new, more robust tool to offer improved data management to a growing group of contact tracing staff.

When the IMITS team rolled out VCH’s Case and Contact Tool earlier this week, they delivered a solution that’s integrated with other VCH systems in just three weeks, compared to the three months or so that it would normally take. How did they manage to pull that off?

"A lot of hard work and people going above and beyond to make it work," Jared says, "as well as some amazing collaboration with other teams."

Luckily, team members like Ben Wan had delivered a similar web tool before. Ben knew he’d need to coordinate six or seven technical services teams in order to get key things like websites set up, user access organized, etc. No easy feat when these other teams are also juggling their own urgent priorities.

While Ben worked with the other teams, Avadesh Kaushal was connecting with the technology supplier, "opening up the hood" of the internet to set up internal networks, making sure firewall rules were in effect, and setting up the URL that staff would use.

At the same time, Joey Cheng was working closely with the Contact Tracing team to examine how they wanted to use the tool, how they expected it to be configured and how the tool would look.

Add on teams of people doing the training and planning for support, setting up user documentation, coordinating with lawyers around contracts and working on risk management, and you’ve got yourself a host of people who’ve played a role in getting just this one system in action.

Multiply that by the number of other projects currently in the IMITS project queue and you start getting a better idea of the quantity and quality of work done over the last six months.

Guiding through strategy

When involved in a discussion about the Digital Health Strategy with Sr. Enterprise Architect Hilary Horlock, you quickly realize she’s passionate about technology serving patients and their families. This passion is a big part of what drives her and her Business Architecture team, as they strive to understand health care professionals’ needs.

With the Digital Health Strategy, Hilary’s team is concentrating not only on what can be done today, but also what the organization needs to do in the years to come. It’s this kind of dual focus that excites Hilary and has her "learning new things every single day."

Her team has worked with every health authority in the province at some point in time, giving them a broad perspective on technology. "We’re the bridge between strategy and execution," she explains.

Aligning technology with the objectives of the organization is what they focus on, working closely with teams of clinicians to the point where Hilary says, "We understand how they do their jobs day to day." After 15 years at PHSA, she’s very clear on what the role of her team is: "This is all about the people – we’re 100 per cent focused on people," she says.

"We do our best to interpret between clinicians and our IMITS colleagues so they can do their jobs as well as they can," she says. "That way, everything our colleagues design is based on the business users’ needs."

Supporting the shift online

Another project that saw its timeline accelerated as a result of the pandemic is the Provincial eForms Solution, a project that Jennifer Charters, senior manager of IMITS eHealth Project Delivery has been working on for over a year now.

While one of the key goals of the project – replace the thousands of faxed requests for patient testing and treatment and enable online access and submission to key patient care forms – might seem simple, below the surface there are hundreds of challenges and issues that her team has been working through to bring the project to life for clinicians.

"Digitizing this process, particularly in a rapidly-changing world of COVID-19, offers health care leaders the ability to update forms in minutes rather than days or weeks," says Jennifer. Like being able to add a new "symptom" field for a test request in response to new COVID-19 evidence. It’s clear eForms hold a world of promise and increased efficiency to a system that had fallen way behind technologically, something that clinicians seem to be embracing based on the project’s recent results.

"We just hit our 10,000th eForm submitted for the system we built for front line public health workers at Interior Health Authority," exclaims Jennifer with a sense of pride for her team’s accomplishments.

When asked what might be behind the ability of IMITS teams to successfully complete the number of complex projects they have had recently, she says she senses a shift in how teams are working together in the last six months.

"Like the rest of the province, we all now have a singular shared issue we’re trying to tackle," she says. "And we’re using that focus to make our impact on the health care system."

"It’s something we can’t do in isolation so even though we have a dedicated work group we’re getting plenty of support from other teams like Technical Services, Information & Privacy, IMITS Security and the Provincial Public Health Information Team."

Messages of thanks 

Happy IT Professionals Day! Join the conversation and share your appreciation for our IT colleagues on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #ITProsDay2020. Make sure to tag @PHSAofBC.

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