We asked some of New Zealand's leading business people about their bravest moment in business. In the third story of our series for Spark, Managing Director of Mobile Health, Dr Stuart Gowland.
"Our brave moment came about on the back lawn." So says Dr Stuart Gowland of Mobile Surgical Unit (MSU).
At the time he already had a successful programme taking a kidney stone treatment machine to the people rather than people having to go to a treatment centre. "A few doctors and surgeons caught wind of what we were doing and suggested, given the amount of rural hospital service closures including surgery, we put an operating theatre into a bus," he says.
The next important step, however, would prove more troublesome.
"When we told the Ministry of Health we wanted to move an operating theatre around the countryside they told us, 'You can't do that in a carpark! Operations happen in hospital theatres! Patients won't go there. Surgeons won't go there. Don't do it!"
Like anything revolutionary or disruptive, this different way of thinking didn't fit any model of healthcare delivery.
"When I was told repeatedly, 'We won't let you do it,' I whipped out a tape measure on the lawn at home and measured how big such a truck would need to be. I put boxes where a theatre bed could go and somewhere to wash your hands. I stood back, scratched my head and thought, 'No, this can bloody be done. We can do this.'"
"The Ministry of Health's lack of enthusiasm left us more deflated than annoyed, because it was never about financial reward. We would have worked as a charity. By now we'd developed a bus model, a projected circuit of rural hospitals, and received huge support from small hospitals and communities around the country."
Gowland is a passionate man with a big heart. Tenacity is an obvious trait. Soon he and his team would gain the support of the officials and the surgical bus hit the road.
Fast-forward 14 years and the $5 million bus completes a loop of the South Island every five weeks, providing surgery at locations lacking permanent surgical facilities. The MSU team, consisting of a surgeon, anesthetist and four local nurses, corrects everything from hernias to hemorrhoids, carpal tunnel to colonoscopies.
How many procedures in all? 20,000, at an average of 1,500 a year.
And to prove you need a sense of humour in even the most serious of careers, Gowland and his team decided those who drive the surgical bus should be known as 'Steerologists.'
Having the surgical bus visit patients in their own town goes a long way towards ensuring each procedure is as stress-free and as comfortable as possible. The patient can get a good night's sleep, stroll to the bus site in the morning, and be home for the six o'clock news.
"Patients just love it!" says Gowland. "We thought there'd be resistance, but in a weird sort of way they're proud to have had an operation in a truck. They tell their mates. It's a big deal for them."
Roll back to those early days and Gowland mirrors the thoughts of many a new business owner:
"We worried about all sorts of things. The first trial operation took two days to prepare and a whole day to pack up. We had to be more efficient. Now our truck arrives the night before, whereby our drivers set up for the next day's procedures. Patients are able to have a surgery date booked for them without the burden of having to arrange transport to, and possibly accommodation in, larger centres."
Stuart's bravery proves there's a bit of Ed Hillary in all of us. Having catapulted himself from the backyard to the beehive, this Kiwi visionary has transformed health care as we know it.
When people said no, he moved on and did it anyway.
"Local communities saw nothing but opportunity. This could be their operating theatre, providing employment for local nurses who could operate on local patients. We added strength to communities who had otherwise been knocked back."
The association with Spark, led continuous synchronization of patient information in the theatre, like x-rays. "Teaming up with Spark meant we had access to the latest patient data, significantly enhancing the safety of our mobile surgery," says Gowland.
The most likely next step for the surgical bus is advancing the concept of 'share mobile,' where expensive hospital facilities or equipment, which isn't used every day, can be shared anywhere. This could lead to CT scanners or MRI or other imaging equipment being available for every community. And yes, robots will certainly play a bigger role in assisting surgery.
Gowland: "We're often asked if our bus, or a transportable unit we call a POD, could stop at large hospitals for six months at a time to help out with capacity. We'd like to do that, but everyone needs to be a bit braver."
"We're almost at that point, but not quite yet."
Every business owner has a defining moment, a point where they have a make or break decision. Us kiwis love a good success story, and we want to hear all about yours. Share your brave business journey with us and you could land yourself an exclusive Spark Lab VIP experience.
Spark will look after flights to Auckland, accommodation, dinner at Seafarers and tickets for a premium Spark Lab business event with the opportunity to network with the speaker. They will also include a one-on-one business mentoring session with an Icehouse coach worth $380.
To enter, simply tell us about your brave business story and what helped you along the way. Share your story here