Patients First says “Haere Ra” to Helmut Modlik

Patients First says “Haere Ra” to Helmut Modlik

Helmut speaking at HINZ 2019

Helmut Modlik reflects on his time as CEO at Patients First over the past three and a half years.


by Helmut Modlik

The rollercoaster ride of leading Patients First is now over. When I started in early 2017, as always in any new role, the issues and people came thick and fast. By contrast now, with the sector still in the grip of the Covid ‘black-hole’, I’m slipping off into the sunset in a relatively sedate manner, comfortable in the knowledge that Patients First is in good hands and we have re-confirmed our role and value to the stakeholders we serve. In addition to being the ‘glue guys’ for primary care, the trusted intermediary and deliverer in ‘the commons’, Patients First is now also the trusted adviser for all thing ‘cybersecurity’ – a timely and high value addition to the mix.

I’m proud that we’ve reaffirmed how vital Patients First’s role is for the efficient and effective operation of the primary care sector.

In hindsight, I’m particularly proud of two key things. First is the development, deployment and growing recognition of our Conporto offerings – especially Conporto EDM or harm detection service. The timely identification and prevention of serious harm and easy viewing of disparate patient records have been long-standing challenges for a highly fragmented health system, that Conporto has cracked. Second is re-confirming the significance and value of our trusted intermediary role. I’m proud that we’ve reaffirmed how vital Patients First’s role is for the efficient and effective operation of the primary care sector. It’s been achieved by the sector getting behind us and confirmed by the Ministry’s recent decision to fund us at an appropriate level to deliver that role.

Helmut and Sam Jacobs manning the Conporto stand at the MOH TIKI Tour 2018 event.

The last three and a half years haven’t been without challenges. One of the first was whether there was a reason for Patients First to exist. We had to re-engage with stakeholders and ask, “what is the purpose and value of Patients First?” and second how do we ensure we’re sustainably funded. Another challenge has been responding to the differences of opinions in primary care on all sorts of topics. Our key stakeholder primary care are PHOs and they are not homogenous; there are very significant differences, and our ability to add value, work with, engage, and contribute to our various stakeholders was a continuous challenge. All the while, we remained a small organisation with a geographically dispersed team, uncertain revenues and growth aspirations.

When you live with uncertainty and change, you’re always learning and looking for ways to add value. The health sector is an environment of continuous change and I enjoy it very much. I’m not a “business as usual” person but enjoy striving to achieve a stable end point as a constant reminder to make sure you’re adding real value, and that the value is visible.

Helmut speaking at the GP Conference 2019.

Looking to the future, technologies that enable virtualisation of care have become accepted and now the norm. Covid-19 has loosened the soil of resistance in so many ways, and I expect to see a significant uptake of virtual tele-health technologies, and other value-adding technologies that enable viewing, integration, analysis, etc., of the many fragmented and distributed health data sets.

When it comes to the Health and Disability System Review, I was disappointed that the review team lost their courage when it came to recommending a direct commissioning role for Māori health services. The rest of it was all well understood and signalled, but the devil is in the detail and a very great deal is yet to be teased out. I’ve been through similar change in my 30 years in the health sector, and the key observation I’d make is that very little changes at the coal face. Doctors and nurses still see patients pretty much unchanged – in the short term anyway. All the action will be above that and will take time and effort to execute well. It’s going to be a good thing to concentrate the expertise and talent in fewer entities, which will be good for the sector.

I leave Patients First with two things – the ability to ‘punch above our weight’, and our reputation for being a source of trusted, quality service and support. I think that in my time we’ve been a valued contributor – whether it was contributing to the thought-leadership and debate when issues are being canvassed, as well enabling sound change and us being a voice for sensible, workable, doable things.

The thing I will miss about Patients First is of course the people – it’s always people. But I’m glad that in my new role as the Chief Executive of Ngāti Toa Rangatira, which includes Ora Toa PHO, I’ll still have reasons to stay connected to most of the same folks i.e. I won’t have to miss them very long!

My new role covers the full scope of issues and concerns for Iwi Māori. My job is quite simply to conceive and deliver the best things that I can think of to achieve the wellness, prosperity and mana of my people. Best job in the world! We have endless opportunity, a solid resource base and capability to achieve that; so, I’m super excited about making that a reality in the days ahead.

When I reflect on my time at Patients First and look ahead to my new role, the lesson I’ve been reminded of is that nothing stays the same. Being constantly head up, connected to people and wisely seeking to understand the implications of what is and what might be, so that you can position yourself and add value where it’s needed. We’re going to need that attitude, that agility, that courage and clarity in the face of constant change – everyone is.

Finally, thank you to all my colleagues in Patients First and around the sector, it’s been great, and I wish you all the best moving forward. Ma te Atua koutou e manaaki, e tiaki i ngā wā katoa! Mauri Ora!

Helmut Modlik profile photo