Date posted: 7/10/2020 5 min read

Difference makers of 2020: Alan Chew FCA

Alan Chew FCA helped build NZ’s COVID Tracer app, and now he wants a digital revolution in the nation’s medical clinics.

In Brief

  • Alan Chew FCA is focused on improving processes in medical clinics.
  • Digitised forms and self-service kiosks would save time, reduce costs and allow doctors to see more patients, he says.
  • Chew believes adaptability is the quality you most need in employees.

Story Hayden Maskell
Photo Ruth Gilmour

Alan Chew FCA, the man who built the prototype for the COVID Tracer app now used widely across New Zealand, has a new goal in his sights: a digital revolution in New Zealand’s health system.

He is particularly interested in how technology can help doctors, clinics and patients.

“I decided three or four years ago that I would get back into working with the medical profession, mostly at the GP level,” says Chew, who in 1986 founded ICT services provider Houston Technology Group and then Houston Medical, a developer of management software for medical clinics, which he sold in 1998.

“The entire industry has been totally forgotten by innovation,” he says. “It’s crazy!”

Why paper forms are such a time waster

New Zealand’s medical clinics, for example, send 12 million text messages each year, costing them about NZ$2 million, research by Houston Productivity (the consultancy division of Houston Technology Group) has found. Along with pharmacies, clinics spend millions more on fax and printer consumables, and colossal amounts of money and time on paper forms.

Most patients who visit a medical centre have to fill in at least one of these forms, whether it’s an enrolment form, accident compensation form or a form to update their contact details.

“These are still on paper. We timed it out that it takes the receptionist between seven to 10 minutes to process each form. Each form!” Chew emphasises.

Worse than the time kill is the rate of errors, and the subsequent time and resources taken to fix those errors. Deciphering handwriting is a significant issue, but so too is the pressure to enter the data while also managing a busy clinic.

Digitising the medical clinic reception process

Houston Productivity’s solution has been to introduce digital kiosks and forms, a project that is rolling out across the country.

“I’ve put a lot of focus on the medical sector,” says Chew. “I understand the challenges for the medical industry and I also understand the software industry.

“We have digitised the form and it’s accessible on the web so you can either enter your information before you come to the clinic, or type it in on the kiosk. We have removed 95% of the labour of processing that form and increased the accuracy.”

Chew’s vision is of a better, more resilient and more patient-focused health industry.

“What we could do with the kiosks is turn it into a situation you might encounter at a self-checkout or Air New Zealand check-in station, where you have kiosks and then somebody who floats around to help you if you need it.

“These clinics can have more patient seating, more consult rooms. It increases the amount of patients a doctor can process, at a lower cost, with better customer service.”

Alan Chew FCAPicture: Alan Chew FCA.

“It increases the amount of patients a doctor can process, at a lower cost, with better customer service.”
Alan Chew FCA

Another use for the COVID Tracer app

As for the tracing app, don’t expect it to disappear along with the pandemic.

Chew has said he saw developing the app as a way to contribute to a country that had given him so much. (He first came to New Zealand from Malaysia in 1975 on a scholarship to study at the University of Waikato in Hamilton.) But there’s a job for the app beyond COVID-19.

“That technology has an important role to play in solving a major problem at clinics: patient contact details,” Chew explains.

With patient information stored securely inside the user’s phone, Chew is confident it has significant potential to reduce privacy issues and the amount of resources poured into managing contact information.

“The pandemic has focused people’s minds and really highlighted that businesses need to embrace more technology,” he says. “Everybody in business knows that, but they don’t do it … they are kicking the can further down the road.

“We are a very comfortable nation, blessed with great resources and the ability to produce a lot of food. That makes it easy to be complacent.”

Adaptability will bring success

Chew would like New Zealanders to place greater emphasis on adaptability and innovation.

“When you are hiring people, you test them for intelligence, and maybe their emotional quotient,” he says. “But really you need to test them for an adaptability quotient, because we want people who can adapt to change.”

Nevertheless, he is fervent about the future and his new ideas. “It reminds me of how it was when I first started. I am really enjoying myself.”

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