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    Why data matters when you’re faced with a medical emergency

    Medibank Senior Executive Craig Rowlands during a recent hospital stay

    Medibank is always looking to find better ways to improve the customer experience – from securing sensitive data, making it easier to log into our Medibank website and app, or keeping our contact centre operating efficiently.

    At Medibank, one of our pillars is ‘customers first’ and data integrity is at the heart of this. These principles have informed my work over the past two years as a senior executive in Medibank’s information technology space.

    Our business supports the healthcare of millions of Australians each year, from hospital procedures to visits to the dentist. Our systems support customers through what can be difficult and confusing circumstances.

    Craig Rowlands presenting

    But as a patient, I got a new insight into life as a Medibank customer. I recently spoke about this experience at a major data and analytics conference in Melbourne.

    I now have a clearer picture on what data quality and accuracy really means when you’re lying in a hospital bed. Too often, people in our space think about data governance in terms of financial outcomes rather than with the customer at the centre of what we do. Now I know it really is about survival and the best possible recovery.

    As a keen runner, social soccer player and new grandfather, I’ve always cared about my health and wellbeing. However earlier this year I had a coronary artery bypass graft procedure, also known as a heart bypass operation.

    Without immediate surgery I was at risk of a ‘widow maker’ heart attack. At 50, I was suddenly a patient in both the private and public health systems – from the initial investigation to diagnosis, choosing a surgeon, which type of invasive operation I’d need, at which hospital, through to rehabilitation and recovery.

    Craig Rowlands Soccer Pic

    I was struck by how thankful I was to be surrounded by dedicated individuals. It also illustrated some real difficulties in the health industry, and when facts and figures are crucial.

    For example, an accurate patient record was used by my GP to determine which expensive tests would be needed on my heart. Statistics were used by my specialist to determine what level of physical activity could be undertaken prior to surgery.

    I was then faced with a decision on robotic versus traditional surgery. Evidence ruled out a stent in my case, and with robotic surgery remaining so new, there’s little global research on long term health outcomes. All I knew was that I would have been the first robotic heart surgery at the hospital and only one of seven performed in Australia.

    When it came to my choice of surgeon, I was able to use tools built for Medibank customers to check the likely cost. I could source information on the type of device that would be inserted into my chest – does it aid recovery or set off alarms at the airport? I was even armed with material on choices of medication post-surgery and alternatives available. Not forgetting all the specifics collected from what seemed like dozens of blood tests.

    What struck me most about being a patient was that I wanted to make informed choices based on the most accurate information available. This is where I became a customer in my own company – using our website and getting support on what I needed to ask my doctor.

    Even with a detailed knowledge of how the private health system works, an unexpected post-surgery complication saw me taken to a local public hospital emergency room after- hours. They were struggling with demand and medical staff suggested we return to the private system instead. Good data practices meant that it was all recorded and transferred.

    Later I discovered my local public cardiac rehabilitation centre had a six-month waiting list. This is where I valued my private health insurance the most - Medibank found me an alternative cardiac rehabilitation program, which catered for my psychological and physical needs. It was part of my policy and there were no out of pocket expenses. This was vital as I needed new dietary support and help with the unexpected emotional toll following major surgery.

    I’m now back at work, a month after surgery, and looking through the customer lens every day – how can data support patients to be more informed about their healthcare choices?

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