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Q&A with 30th INCITE Awards winner, Dr Sumit Sinha-Roy of the East Metropolitan Health Service

One subject has dominated our industries and news outlets for the last two years, and last year’s INCITE Awards ceremony was no different.

The arrival of covid-19 in 2020 put health and the people working to protect it at the forefront of the global consciousness in a way we’ve never seen before – and one small but innovative team in East Perth soon found themselves in the centre of it.

The Covid-19 Assessment Digital App developed alongside clinicians by the Data & Digital Innovation team at the East Metropolitan Health Service rapidly collected demographic and clinical information from covid clinics, mobile clinics, the airport and hotel quarantine and was integral to Western Australia’s covid response, making them worthy winners of last year’s Innovating Government category.

We sat down with Dr Sumit Sinha-Roy, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at the East Metropolitan Health Service, to chat about their INCITE experience, the opportunities that soon followed and telling a new story about WA talent.

Q. What does the INCITE Awards mean to you? Why did you enter?

We entered because after speaking to staff from across the WA health system and receiving recognition from colleagues publicly and privately, it became apparent we had created a tool that had been scaled and utilised everywhere – public, private, metro, regional settings… from the Eucla border to Kununurra in the north.

Like the rest of the world a global pandemic was thrown upon us and we just got to work doing what we could for our community and those on the frontline. When you’re doing the doing, at pace… you don’t stop for a second to think about the fact that this was an undefined, unprecedented problem and appreciate how applicable your solution is for the whole of WA. By accident and design we’d created a state-wide solution.

We didn’t enter for individual recognition, but the recognition from our colleagues across the health system encouraged us to enter. And that recognition from our peers is valued more than any award!

Q. What was it like to be involved? What effect has entering (and winning!) had for you?

There was absolutely no expectation that we would win and we had been admiring all the other solutions showcased on the night, so when the Office of Digital Government called us on stage we were overjoyed!

We put in our application simply to get the message out, not to win, so the additional recognition was just the icing on the cake. Our Data and Digital Innovation (DDI) team now have something they can put their name to which is fantastic. The effort that goes into the workflows and designs that they create isn’t always recognised and the public health system can get a bit of an unfair label for being slow and inflexible, but our team proved the public sector is agile and flexible. I was proud to work with the DDI team.

Winning the award has put them further on the map – they’re the go to for designing health-based solutions. Case in point: in early February as borders were getting ready to open and RATs had been approved for use in WA, we immediately started receiving phone calls from counterparts across the state who needed a way to record and recall results for use in hospitals. Of course, the team had already thought about it and designed a RAT results recording module through the original COVID webform app for all health sites to use!

Since the original webform creation, the tech has really been given a new lease of life with additional dashboards, etc., and the team is coming up trumps every time. We may be East Metropolitan Health Service (EMHS), but the team have a truly state-wide product and skillset.

Q. What would you say to others thinking about entering?

Don’t just think about it… enter! What you get is the opportunity not just to showcase your solution but to showcase your team. Because if you’re passionate about the tech you know it’s not just about the product or solution, it’s about the people behind it and you should absolutely be looking for ways to develop them and recognise them for the work they do.

It’s also a great networking opportunity. We met Sarah from What the Doctor Said through last year’s INCITE program and now we’re just embarking on some work together. To me the Awards aren’t about competition as much as they are a collaborative platform – especially when you are creating solutions to problems we all have.

We have a lot of advantages here in WA and one is that we are not a huge population, we are small enough to collaborate and to help each other develop and scale. We entered because we were curious about how our solution fitted into the digital ecosystem, but also about who else and what else is out there. Sometimes talent in WA is just hiding in plain sight, and is not always making the front pages of established publications. WA gets that moniker ‘Wait Awhile’ but INCITE is giving us a platform to challenge that, because we aren’t waiting awhile – we’re doing things no one else is, over East or overseas. For example, seeing what our TAFE students were doing last year with their platform for mining was amazing.

Q. And finally, do you have any tips you can offer on how to submit an award-winning entry?

Firstly, get a lot of people to look at it, amongst your team but outside of it too. It’s great to have someone who doesn’t work within a digital space critique it, someone who would be using your product or solution instead.

Secondly, make sure you believe in it. Ask yourself, do you have the right intent behind the product? Do you believe in it? If you can answer yes to both those questions, then you’re on the right track. Last but not least, some application etiquette… allow plenty of time to complete the application, and make sure you have all the bits you need to attach to the application!

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