AWS Public Sector Blog

Celebrating women leaders: A Q&A with the CEO of Australia’s Digital Health Agency

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In honour of Women’s History Month, Amazon Web Services (AWS) celebrates female leaders who inspire and empower women and girls in STEM. Their stories demonstrate technical excellence, leadership, collaboration, and mentorship – values that create an inclusive culture where all can thrive. The United Nations’ (UN) theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was “Invest in women: Accelerate progress.” The tepid progress on persistently large global gender gaps in health and education creates an urgent case for renewed and concerted action.

We’re excited to share the following Q&A with Amanda Cattermole PSM, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency. The ADHA partners with AWS to help power digital health services and explore cloud computing innovations that can transform healthcare

Throughout her career, Cattermole has championed the development of female leaders and role models in public service. She understands that elevating women into positions of leadership transforms outdated social norms and inspires women and girls to achieve their full potential. Through her leadership, Cattermole sends a powerful message on women’s equality in driving digital progress.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities you see for women pursuing leadership roles in healthcare?

“Imagine you are an observer in an operating theatre. The scene is punctuated by the rhythmic beeping of monitors and the rise and fall of the patient’s chest. With a look at focused intensity, the surgeon turns to the nurse and says, ‘hemostat clamp.’ With a subtle nod, the nurse picks up the instrument and hands it to the surgeon.

If you pictured the surgeon as a man and the nurse as a woman, you are not alone. Stereotypes and unconscious bias persist, despite our individual and collective efforts.

While there are slightly more women than men entering medicine at universities across Australia, the statistics diverge significantly in medical specialisation. Women form a very small minority in most surgical sub-specialities in Australia, from 3 percent in orthopaedics to about 12 percent in general surgery.

Likewise, a gender gap exists in healthcare leadership – as it does across many fields. And this is a problem because you have to see it to be it – we need female role models to visualise ourselves succeeding.

It is also partly the reason why the Federal Government convened the National Women’s Health Summit. The summit brought together government, community, and health sector representatives and women to discuss ways to improve access to healthcare, services, and outcomes for women following the landmark #EndGenderBias survey.

There is appetite for change all around us, and an opportunity exists for each of us to push against that historical discrimination and be the role model, be the person who challenges those deeply ingrained biases and attitudes that we know have shaped the world we live in today. We can pave a better path for women leaders of tomorrow by identifying inequality and discrimination – whether overt or covert. Speak up, develop good, equitable policy, and consider the gendered context of our work.”

You became CEO of the Agency in 2020. What inspired you to take this leadership role and what is your vision for transforming healthcare through technology?

“My Agency is my inspiration. It stands at the intersection of healthcare and technology, with a focus on developing and delivering digital health solutions to support a connected healthcare system that is accessible to all Australians and embraced by healthcare providers. As a leader, I have the privilege of steering the Agency towards a future where data flows seamlessly, where medical histories are not lost in the labyrinth of paperwork, and where every healthcare practitioner has access to the right information at the right time. We are a young agency – still growing and developing – but the goal of our work is clear: to help better connect all parts of Australia’s health system by digitising the sector to improve the information that have across their healthcare journey. This is also about improving the information that healthcare providers have when making potentially life-saving decisions.

If COVID-19 did anything for us, it inspired a seismic shift in awareness and uptake of digital health. Today, patients want their health information at their fingertips, and they are the ones urging their healthcare providers to get on board.

  • 83 percent want to control their health data, with 71 percent agreeing that it would improve communications between them and with health professionals
  • 84 percent want to improve their health literacy skills and knowledge
  • Patients want a safe and secure system they trust and they expect modern, joined-up health services in which they sit firmly and fully in the centre.

We need to respond deeply and decisively to these expectations and we need to bake in the progress that we have made.

During the pandemic, states, territories, and the Commonwealth pulled together in a remarkable way, along with so many across Australia’s health sector and in the industries that support it. As one example, electronic prescribing was launched in just six weeks – from a standing start. Telehealth is another major example of this collaboration to drive change and support the health of Australians when it was so critically needed.

We need to keep that momentum going. Demand for health services continues to surge, rates of chronic disease are increasing, and workforce pressures are mounting. The health cost to Australian taxpayers is $106 billion annually – that’s a massive 15 percent of the Government’s total expenditure. We need improved productivity through innovation to help ensure the sustainability of our world-class health system.

One of your Agency’s goals is to empower consumers by giving them control of their health information. How can technology make this a reality?

“Our role is to help better connect the health system and improve the information that Australians have at their fingertips across their healthcare journey. This includes standards stewardship; developing specifications, services and systems such as My Health Record; and building national health IT platforms and systems that work together and enable better flow of information across the health ecosystem. System interoperability (or connectedness) is at the centre of our drive for quality improvement.

As an Agency, we are focused on stewarding increased empowerment for Australian healthcare consumers and their carers by leveraging current technology and data. To do this effectively, we need to support more information sharing and improved health and digital health literacy – with Australians in the driver’s seat about when, what, and who they share information with.

Stewarding and operating My Health Record is one way we do this. My Health Record is a safe and secure place for healthcare consumers to store their essential health information, and is accessible to consumers and their healthcare providers at any time, including in emergencies. It contains key health information like immunisations, pathology and diagnostic imaging reports, prescription and dispensing information, hospital discharge summaries, and more, and is accessed online or via the my health app.

My Health Record has enormous potential to grow into a healthcare information hub for consumers and for the practitioners who support them. It captures data relating to every aspect of a person’s medical history and engagement across the healthcare system, from birth to end-of-life. A complete, accurate health record, available anywhere, any time to the consumer and those they choose to share it with.

Digital healthcare can enable new models of care, support health policy reform, and inform new treatments. Digital innovation can enable personalisation of health information according to a person’s needs, cultural backgrounds, and life circumstances, and actively support our most vulnerable people. It can support clinical information passing seamlessly, safely, and securely across a connected health ecosystem. And it can ease pressure on the health workforce, reduce red tape, and ensure the affordability and sustainability of the system.

I see our Agency as navigators and stewards, helping empower Australians to steer their own healthcare journeys – working collaboratively across the system to achieve this. That is a vision that drives me and the Agency team every day.”

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Rafaela de Oliveira

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