Build a team: a team doesn’t happen overnight. You must work at it, even when you have the right people in post, to develop that feeling of collaboration and movement.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen De Gabrielle, Product Manager at Epro.
Stephen is Epro’s experienced Health Systems specialist, with expertise in systems integration software development, clinical systems management, project management, and business analysis — all within a clinical setting. With a history of working in the healthcare, university and library sectors, he joined Epro to become the bridge between the development team and their customers. Stephen is a continuous learner, and has recently added skateboarding to his roster of skills!
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
Ever since I was a kid, I was interested in science and technology. My mum was a nurse and a Sci-Fi fan, and my dad ran the local volunteer emergency services (we lived in a rural area) and ran a farm and was into amateur radio. We had lots of animals and would often end up nursing lambs or calves. On top of this I was lucky enough to get an early eight-bit computer for my birthday to stop me hogging the ZX81 that a friend of my father had built out of a kit and an old teletype. I ended up helping with local emergency services.
My first experience of Epro was at Ealing Hospital (now part of the London North West University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust), using discharge summaries. Although it was one of the many IT systems I supported and managed, including cancer tracking and sexual health, it was one I was drawn to over and over again. When I had the chance to join the Epro team to help develop the product for the NHS, I leapt at the opportunity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Definitely my dad. Although it’s a bit of a cliche to say your parents, in my case it is true. Back in Australia when I was growing up, my father was involved in the volunteer emergency services, which showed me the power of working as a team. I can say, hand on heart, that I wouldn’t be where I am now without him.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t have a specific quote, it’s actually an idea book called The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, by the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman. Learning isn’t something that stops at a certain age, or a certain education level. We should never stop learning! There is so much to explore, so much to discover, so much that you can learn. It brings me joy to think about that. It would be strange to feel as though we have reached the limit of human understanding.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- I’m a listener — and this has served me well as colleagues and peers genuinely want to make things better and often have a perspective or insight you would never reach on your own. This is doubly true in the health tech industry, where listening to the front line staff; doctor and nurses, administrators, secretaries, and porters gives you valuable insight into the pressures and needs.
- Willingness to learn, definitely.
- Making mistakes — that’s what I’ve learnt the most from. I remember almost taking down a university email server 20 years ago while playing with the configuration! This taught me an important lesson — it is good to play and experiment to learn, but it is better not to make others suffer. On the bright side, I was able to fix it before it impacted anyone else, but I was mere minutes away from disaster. I continue to make mistakes but all my play and experimentation is kept strictly in test systems ever since.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
The right information at the right time. We want to make it easier for clinicians, doctors, and nurses to deliver the best care possible, but with the limited time and resources they have to hand, flooding them with pages of notes, letters, results, and scans can make it harder, not easier. Exacerbating the issue, a large hospital may have hundreds of systems across many dozens of services and departments.
How do you think your technology can address this?
We make it easier for clinicians; doctors and nurses and front line staff to get the information they need when they need it so they can deliver the best care possible, with the limited time and resources they must hand.
We do this by combining good engineering with good design and the best support and professional services team I know — all with a laser-like focus on the user experience. That means we cover everything from clinical noting on a mobile phone, to ward management on large ‘ward whiteboard’ touchscreens, all with seamless integration to other systems both inside the organization and with partners in community and primary care.
The combination of the technology with design makes it fit for humans and the support — the people who stand behind it to support your staff and continuously improving the tools make it the best.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I was fortunate to work in universities and libraries — and while I still feel education is very important — health tech has the potential to make healthcare safer and more efficient. I should also mention everyone in my family works in healthcare. My mother and grandmother were nurses, my father was an ambulance driver, and my brother is a theatre tech manager supporting surgeons working with amazing things like the da Vinci Surgical Systems Robot. I’m a bit jealous actually — seriously google it, it looks like science fiction come to life!
How do you think this might change the world?
I feel we are leading on the combination of technology+design+people — and while the technology in health is improving, the design of health systems is mostly primitive. I hope other vendors will follow our lead with our focus on design — we have had many imitators, and I hope that leads more suppliers to focus on design to support clinicians on the front lines.
All technology has risks and benefits, but when supporting healthcare it is important to have rigorous testing and in addition to a dedicated QA and testing team. That is why we also run tens of thousands of automated tests, and are continuously improving our testing in addition to being core to our development process.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- Listen to the users: there’s no point building something if the users themselves don’t want it!
- Build a team: a team doesn’t happen overnight. You must work at it, even when you have the right people in post, to develop that feeling of collaboration and movement.
- Keep learning: anyone who has finished learning should finish working! Especially in healthcare, there’s always something new to learn.
- Make mistakes: not with patients, obviously, which is why we have several test environments here at Epro to ensure we fully explore all new features before deployment. Only by making mistakes can you tell what needs to happen next.
- Take a break: burnout is real, particularly in the medical profession at the moment. Taking a few days off may look selfish from the outside looking in, but it may be the only thing preventing someone from crumbling.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I don’t think young people need me to tell them they should consider making a positive impact, I want to tell them they can make a positive impact, and they should consider health tech as one way to do that.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I don’t need a private breakfast or lunch, but working in tech I think it is important we learn from the past. With that in mind I think someone worth learning from is Professor Mar Hicks, author of Your Computer Is on Fire and Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge In Computing.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.