John Forsythe is leading the digitization of healthcare in Australia.
He’s the partner in charge of digital hospitals at global accounting and consulting giant PwC. Over the past 17 years at PwC, he’s been directly involved in the implementation of close to 100 new clinical systems at hospitals around Australia.
Now, he’s using cutting-edge tech to track patient journeys, reduce medication errors, and try to close the 11-year life expectancy gap between Australia’s indigenous population - Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders - and the rest.
Back in 2006, John took an EMBA at Sydney’s Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) to bolster his quant skills and boost his network. He completed his studies in 2010, and became a PwC partner last June.
What are the major challenges for healthcare in Australia, and how can they be overcome through digitization?
Australia actually ranks in the top ten in almost every clinical indicator in the world. We are a world leader in health care. However, there are still many areas for improvement.
The main issue which I have devoted my efforts to, relates to poor handover from the GP to hospital to community settings. How often do you have to give your information over and over? Why is your health record an island to each healthcare provider?
It’s not only ludicrous is today's age, but it’s also dangerous for patients as it results in poor outcomes. As stated by the new head of the Australian Digital Healthcare Agency, more people die from medication errors in Victoria than die from car accidents. Digitization would significantly reduce medication errors.
What are you working on right now?
I’m building a Digital Healthcare Experience Centre where we aim to use real patient journeys in a highly interactive manner. These journeys will be paired with software providers' tools, industry experts and professional facilitation to understand how existing applications can affect change.
Our first area of focus is trying to help close the 11-year life expectancy gap using digital means between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the rest of Australia. This is a huge problem, but certainly a problem worth solving. Digital alone cannot change this, but it can contribute.
How will digitization change healthcare in Australia over the coming decade?
In so many ways. For starters, your healthcare information will belong to you like your bank account. This power allows you, the consumer, to choose healthcare that suits your specific circumstances. This could be from the relatively simple, like blood test results on your phone, to the complex such as personalized medicine and genomics.
I hope that Digital Health becomes something that Australia actively exports to the world. We are a long way from that now, but we can certainly get there.
What does PwC look for in its job applicants?
Passion. Have that above all else, and you still need to have a field of expertise in demand (like digital!). PwC's purpose is to “build trust in society and solve important problems." I am normally not a fan of mission statements, but I love this one. It’s why I stay at PwC!
Why did you decide to study for an EMBA at AGSM?
I pursued an EMBA to be better rounded. My statistics skills were pretty pathetic and, ironically as I work for PwC, my accounting skills were poor. The EMBA broadened my knowledge, sharpened my focus and brought me together with like-minded individuals. It was a fantastic experience.
How have you profited from your EMBA experience?
I have absolutely benefitted from the experience. It helps me most as a consultant to have a strong base for problem solving and strategy. That being said, it also helps me identify people with whom I work who are far better qualified than I am to help with a client's issue. Humility is very underrated for consultants; it is a critical quality for success.