The Art of Leading Healthcare Differently: Krista Burslam- Dawe, COO of Opto Health on Tomorrow’s Health Tech Innovation

Distilled Post Editorial Team

Though making strides, the NHS has gaps in serving diverse communities equitably. Inequalities persist in A&E outcomes between groups. Uneven access from deprivation and geography remain factors.

As found in the Inclusive Britain report, outcomes still vary greatly across populations. NHS England targets diseases disproportionately impacting minorities to address this. Though progressing, success relies on understanding and meeting diverse needs. Solutions must be co-designed to build trust. Only through an inclusive approach can Urgent and Emergency Care achieve consistent, quality treatment for all.

Krista Burslam-Dawe: A Health Tech COO with a Different, Rejuvenated Perspective

At the forefront of this effort is Krista Burslam-Dawe, the COO of Opto Health - an enigma leading in the male-dominated realm of health tech. Krista's diverse background, delivering care across populations and geographies, provides the empathy and insight to spearhead this needed change. She represents inclusion's power to build trust and meet patients' needs.

After qualifying as a nurse in 2001, Krista began work at Derriford Hospital in Devon. Here, she quickly learned the importance of resilience, adaptability, and agility in delivering care. She discovered a passion for triage - the need to swiftly assess patients and determine the urgency of their conditions.

“From the minute I started my training, I was permanently looking at how I could do things differently, how we could change for the better. Derriford had a great system of allocating different teams on shift; teams would deal with the priority allocated rather than just picking up the next patient that arrived.”

Krista came to admire Derriford's culture, which prioritised flexibility and constant improvement. She drew parallels to her father's background in the military and naval services. Like those environments, Derriford fostered a willingness to change and find solutions when challenges arose.

“Being a heavily military staffed hospital, the culture of adaptability and resilience was strong. Their willingness to change and look for improvements and the same drive by my father who is a former Royal Marine is something I have taken forward throughout my career.”

Krista then travelled to South Africa, where she worked as a volunteer for Kyleisha’s ambulance service. She recounts on the impact working with the team in South Africa, stating: 

"After three years at Derriford I left for South Africa and to work at the Red Cross Paediatric Hospital. I must give a massive thanks to Professor Lee Wallis for giving me this amazing opportunity and supporting me throughout a huge learning curve in my career." Krista reflects. "It was the most incredible experience of my professional life."

"I turned up on the very first night shadowing an experienced paramedic in the rapid response car. The following night I was the sole clinician in that rapid response vehicle. This was scary, but also exciting. I was flattered they thought I had the clinical skills and credibility to be able to do this by myself."

After two years in South Africa, Krista moved to Thailand, balancing nursing with teaching English. Krista then relocated to Sydney, working in the emergency department at St. Vincent's for nearly three years. After gaining valuable experience, though in a different setting, it was finally time to return home. A highlight was working during the swine flu pandemic, which demonstrated the NHS's resilience and prepared it for the challenges of Covid-19 a decade later. Krista then left the RUH to move back to London, returning to St George's Hospital and eventually King’s College Hospital, where she served as the ED Matron.

“Working at King's, like all inner-city London hospitals, meant dealing with unfathomable amounts of trauma, patients with complex medical conditions, social inequalities and other challenges that comes with managing a very large clinical workforce.”

“One of my last shifts working as a Matron for Kings, Dr Cyril Noel and I triaged over 52 patients in 2 hours: We were the receiving hospital for the Westminster Terror Attack. This then led to one of the proudest moments of my career. Prince Charles visited the hospital a few days later to personally thank us for our hard work and dedication, holding my hand and stating that he was ‘humbled’ to be in my presence.”

Opto Health and Krista: Building Up from Diverse Experiences

Krista’s time in the NHS and on the frontlines in South Africa, Australia and Thailand shaped her approach as a nurse and leader. These lessons in adaptable, solution- focused care have granted Krista with unique insight into the challenges the NHS faces today – and the technological solutions that can ameliorate these issues:

“Technology must help. Look at our receptionists and administration teams. They have a million and one tasks that people are completely unaware of. Those extra tasks are putting pressure on their ability to do their job well, and many feel pressurised to book people in as quick as they can. This means things like fracture clinic appointments get delayed, scanning gets delayed, notes that need to be photocopied. So how do you help them? You have got to look at technology.”

Leveraging Krista’s clinical knowledge and experience, Opto Health's solutions facilitate tailored care devoid of bias. Its technologies allow patients from diverse backgrounds to access clinicians who intrinsically understand their perspectives. The business’s platform directly addresses long wait times and lack of visibility in hospital emergency departments. Their system triages and registers patients within 4 minutes, drastically reducing door queues. The technology provides real-time visibility into waiting rooms to quickly identify deteriorating patients.

By streamlining intake and logging each step, Opto Health prevents patients getting lost. The system also redirects patients post-triage, sending info to nurses to keep them informed. This improves handoffs, rationale capture, and safety. The platform allows less urgent patients to be seamlessly redirected to other care options, reducing strain on staff. Enabling telemedicine and "Opto from Home" increases accessibility and supports net zero carbon goals. With translation into 7 languages so far, Opto Health aims to efficiently direct patients to the right care level for their needs.

Leading Health Tech into the Future by Doing Things Differently:

A truly inclusive health service requires recognising barriers facing disadvantaged patients. Krista's experiences show flexible, empathy-driven tech is key to enabling providers to serve unique populations. Championing NHS nurses and staff, Krista is determined to create solutions allowing them to keep supporting patients and better outcomes.

“Our team “gets it”, we know how to support ED’s as we have lived and breathed the world of Emergency Medicine and Nursing with a joint clinical team career spanning over 300 years’ experience. “

Opto Health has established a patient-client council to directly inform product development focused on user needs. With guidance from a strong clinical board, the company commits to keeping patients central. The council provides insights to shape the roadmap and features. By engaging both patients and clinicians, Opto Health ensures its platform serves users and improves emergency care. With the right information at the right time, the platform smooths workflow and the patient experience.

“We have created a bespoke product for each and every Emergency Department. Our aim is to see digital triage embedded within the daily life of every single clinician and patient, worldwide.”

Having walked in nurses' shoes herself, Krista has an immense appreciation for their incredible and demanding work. She believes nurses are the backbone of healthcare and aims to provide them with technology that lightens their load.

Recognising the extraordinary challenges she, and many other nurses in the healthcare workforce have overcome, a personal moment comes to mind:

“One of the things in my father’s speech at my wedding was that I always told him that he had brought me up with wings to fly, which he followed with…that I really had flown (literally around the world and being winched from a Sea King Helicopter onto a Portuguese fishing trawler for someone who had indigestion!) He said to keep flying, aiming high whilst building the future. He said that Jonathan Livingstone’s Seagull springs to mind when he thinks about my career and life:

“The ordinary seagull who taught themselves to be extraordinary and not to believe what your eyes tell you, all they show is limitation, look with your understanding and find out what you already know, and you will see the way to fly”.

“Like the Seagull flying higher, faster and in more spectacular way, we have created a vision at Opto Health that is exciting and have an amazing team that are aligned in the same direction.”

Opto Health’s innovations promise to help the NHS make healthcare more accessible and effective for all its diverse patients. To learn more, get in touch with the team at: info@optohealth.co.uk