Kate Reid faints at the sight of blood.

Fortunately, the general manager of Orion Health's New Zealand business has been able to carve out a career in healthcare without needing to treat any wounds.

Reid did originally plan to be a doctor, but was thwarted when her A-grade average wasn't enough to proceed beyond the medical intermediate year at Otago University - and by that aversion to blood.

"I would have been, actually, a rather ghastly doctor, I think," she says now.

Advertisement

Getting into dietetics kept the healthcare path open, but Reid's first job revealed the gap between how health services were delivered and what people needed to lead healthy lives.

Starting work as a clinical dietician at Counties Manukau, the "little skinny white girl from a private school in Christchurch" got a wake-up when her idealised approach failed to deliver what was needed in the real world.

"I really wanted to be that dietician that changed the world and I realised very quickly that wasn't really going to happen with traditional ways of working."

Seeing as many as 30 people a day at the obesity and diabetes clinic, Reid says filling in food diaries and preaching the benefits of fruit and vegetables wasn't helping a population who had bigger problems, pushing health down their priority list.

"You realise very quickly that there are a whole lot of other needs that aren't met in their lives and they become far more important than somebody's health."

It was the mid-90s and weight-loss drug Xenical was about to be launched in New Zealand.

Drug company Roche poached Reid to run a support programme, including 24 nurses in a call centre, to coach people on the lifestyle changes needed to make the drug treatment successful.

The switch "to the dark side" took her around the world to the UK, when Roche launched the drug there, setting up a similar structure to form part of its global telehealth support network.

"That was probably my first taste of how frustrating it was not to have technology-enabled systems to help capture some of the amazing work we were doing across the world."

Everything was paper-based, right down to individual market research for each country, which meant lessons learnt and study results were hard to transfer between markets.

"We didn't have any technology system that drove those programmes or helped us and we spent an awful lot of money duplicating effort across the world.

"We would do that very differently today."

When her first child was born, Reid reassessed her 90-minute commute from London to Roche's headquarters in Welwyn Garden City and took a job at advertising giant DDB's small but growing health business.

As a strategic planner, Reid was brought in to work with big name customers - Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen and Roche - on marketing or branding problems.

At DDB, straddling the divide between the creatives and the product teams, Reid was able to experience how different pharmaceutical businesses, with different corporate cultures and leadership, took their product lines to market.

"Had I expected I was going to end up there? "Never in a million years.

"When I was training as a dietician, I never thought I was going to end up in an advertising company.

"You wonder how your career got you there, but I guess I was still very passionate about health."

That passion for health eventually saw her ditch the advertising world.

She says the epiphany came in a meeting with senior executives, when a decision had to be made between using "you" or "your" in a strapline.

"I just think I was starting to not really do what I was passionate about, which was caring for people and helping people improve their lives."

Around this time, New Zealand company Atlantis Health, healthcare psychology specialists, connected with her through the London-Kiwi network with an offer to establish a local office.

In the four years that she ran Atlantis' London operations, it grew from three staff to 60, adding European bases in Spain and Germany.

Although she was thoroughly settled in London in a growing business, the Christchurch earthquakes highlighted the distance between Reid and her parents, who lost their home in the quakes.

She returned to New Zealand with Atlantis Health, staying a total of seven years with the firm across the two countries, before moving to Orion Health a year ago.

Reid was attracted by the potential of Orion's technology to automate healthcare provision, with the eventual goal of delivering personalised, individual healthcare.

It's this linking of personal health data, including genetic information, and layering it with information on diet and social circumstances, which will totally change the way healthcare is delivered, she says.

"That gets me very excited."

Reid says she'd never claim to be "hugely technically savvy".

"But I don't think I need to be," she says, "I've got very talented people in my team that know how to do that."