Interview, News

Interview Series: Suzy Foster, CEO, EMIS Health

In our latest interview in the series we spoke with Suzy Foster, CEO of EMIS Health to find out how the company has responded over the past few weeks and what is coming up for the company over the next 12 months.

Can you tell me about yourself and your background?

I’m a qualified accountant by profession, but I was a terrible one! I spent the first half of my career in local government, in various roles. I moved away from traditional accounting into an IT related role and have never looked back. I don’t have a depth of technical expertise but I am passionate about technology and what it can do.

I have no particular desire to understand what’s technically under the bonnet, nor do I ever want to, because for me it would ruin the magic; I don’t want it to limit my thinking. I love the impact technology-driven innovation can have and what can be achieved, and I love the potential.

After more years than I care to own up to I made the big jump from public to private sector, doing various roles at SAP, and Capgemini. Before joining EMIS Health, I was at Microsoft for five years, where I ran the health business for the UK.

Then I came to EMIS Health and I’ve been here just over a year. With my role now as CEO of EMIS Health, I’m responsible for making sure our customers and partners are happy, our people are happy, and we do everything we say we are going to do.

Can you take me through what life has been like for you and your organisation over the last six weeks?

Ridiculously busy! Like a lot of businesses many of our staff were office-based – as the pandemic emerged we realised really quickly that was going to have to change. In under two weeks, we went from hundreds of people coming into the office every day to hundreds of people working at home, which is an extraordinary achievement. I don’t quite know how we did it, but we did and now we’ve got everyone working from home effectively, which is brilliant.

With thanks to some amazing collaboration products from Microsoft and other partners, it’s working really well for us. Covid-19 has brought out an uber can-do attitude that has lifted the spirit of everybody, it’s like “bring it on!”. We’ve managed to achieve heroic acts of coding and roll out in timescales that before Covid-19 would have seemed impossible.

We produced e-learning courses for people who were going back into the NHS from retirement and career breaks. We were able to help get people up to speed really quickly with using our systems again, that was very popular.

For patients, our dedicated Covid-19 page on has had over 3.4 million views so far. Our Patient Access app – which connects people to their local health services – has a symptom checker for Covid-19 symptoms, which has been used over 300,000 times to date.

We’ve offered a lot of our solutions free of charge to support where we can, for example our video consultation / online consultation suite, to enable a digital or virtual consultation. That has spanned both primary care and our community pharmacy customers. We’ve rolled out video capability to our community pharmacy customers for free which means they can help their customers without them having to physically go into the pharmacy. We had the service in the background prior to Covid-19 and had done a couple of trials, but it was one of the many things we accelerated because the pharmacists’ workloads have increased hugely so they needed a digital solution.

More of our customer support has been delivered digitally, with customers making good use of the ‘chat’ feature in our online support system.

There are lots of other examples, we’ve deployed EMIS Web into our clinics in a ridiculously short amount of time and the roll out of the electronic prescription service (EPS) has been accelerated, working with NHSX and NHS Digital. We even rolled out an animation for our customers to share with patients to help explain how to interact with primary care during the pandemic. We created it as an internal resource at first then quickly realised that if we needed more of a clear explanation as the situation was rapidly unfolding, others might too.

As well as immediate help, we’re working with partners on how we can be a part of the more long-term solution: we are collaborating with The Nuffield Department of Primary Care at the University of Oxford and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) on research to help with finding a cure or vaccine, to accelerate treatment.

What are you most proud of in your time at EMIS Health?

The change in our relationship with our customers. We have implemented a new platform called EMIS Now, which is the new point of contact for our customers to reach us. That’s really helped us provide a much better and more focussed support service.

We have reorganised our customer-facing teams, so they’re regionally based and mirror the way NHS organisations are set up in their area. That’s enabled us to think differently and support our customers in a better way. By understanding the landscape across a region we’re providing almost a networking service by sharing best practice and saying, “do you know what they’ve done over there?” Putting organisations in touch with others working on similar problems means we can share ideas and help scale innovation and good practice, which is more important now than ever before.

What’s next for EMIS Health?

We’re really focussed on the EMIS-X platform. We’re hard at work on it right now and despite Covid-19, development continues and we are making good progress.

EMIS-X is our next-generation platform, it’s open and flexible, scalable and cloud based, and because it’s born in the cloud it offers the ability to do things that we just could not do with our existing suite of products. All of our solutions will sit on top of the EMIS-X platform, partners will be able to develop and achieve greater levels of integration and again really drive that interoperability and integration agenda. That’s our big focus area for the next 12 months. When that comes out, that’s what I’ll be most proud of.

The platform will be completed this year and we expect the first applications running on the EMIS-X platform to be launched in 2021.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Be your authentic self, because that’s your best self. You have to be who you are. I’ve learned over the years to adapt my style and have slightly different versions of the authentic me, but it’s still the real me!

If I could go back and give myself advice fresh out of university, I’d say be confident in your ability, trust your intuition and be yourself.

To others I would say surround yourself with people who give you energy; if you’ve got a team around you that gives you energy and each other energy, you can achieve extraordinary things.

For someone thinking about a technology career in the healthcare market I’d say do it, it’s amazing, but you have to genuinely care about healthcare, you really have to have a passion for it. When I moved away from healthcare as a sector I honestly pined for it, it really gets into your DNA.

What’s your go to entertainment at the moment?

Well I am on day 10 of a 21 day no alcohol and 7am yoga class challenge. I love Hatha yoga anyway but I’m definitely not a natural morning person. My yoga teacher set a 21 day cold water training challenge where you turn the temperature to cold for a minute at the end of every shower, but I already do that so I set myself my own. I’d thoroughly recommend people trying the cold water challenge though, it’s great for the mind. If you can face freezing water in the morning then you can definitely face anything else the day throws at you. I’m also watching Killing Eve and I’m part way through Normal People on BBC which is brilliant.

How has Covid-19 impacted health tech?

Massively. It has proved that we can adopt new technology at pace, it has proved suppliers and the NHS can collaborate really well and it has introduced a level of pragmatism that just enables stuff to get done. One of my colleagues said the NHS has had its online banking moment, and it really has.

It’s so important that we keep up this pace of digital adoption and move it into business as usual. That’s going to be the challenge – normalising it and making it sustainable, not just the tech itself but the mindset, while still maintaining high standards of patient data security and clinical safety. We’ve proved it can be done and I hope it continues.

Anything you would like to add?

I’d like to say thank you. Thank you to the whole team at EMIS Health, and thank you to the NHS and front line workers. We’ve got a lot of clinicians who work for us, some of them work part time with us and part time in clinical roles such as GPs and even emergency department consultants. We hear first-hand from them about the impact the pandemic has had. It’s humbling. I don’t think we can ever say thank you enough times.