Dr Graham McGeoch seems to have achieved an awful lot for someone who describes himself as ‘not a completer or finisher.’
He is one of the driving forces behind several online GP programmes, developed in Canterbury, that provide the information doctors need to make the right decisions about patient care, helping to maximise local resources and deliver the best outcomes.
These include HealthPathways (which is available across all of New Zealand and parts of Australia and the UK), Hospital HealthPathways, HealthInfo, Allied Healthways and other innovations such as electronic request management, community-referred radiology functionality and an acute demand management service.
His contribution to the evolution of general practice and dedication to improving the patient-doctor experience for all involved has led to him being awarded Distinguished Fellowship of the College, one of only two to be honoured in this way in 2020.
“I was very pleased to be selected for this prestigious award,” he says. “But I’m still not very sure why I was picked because I was just trying to make life a bit more efficient and effective for people, really.”
Graham was born and bred on the Wirral, a region in North-West England, and decided he wanted to be a doctor when he was a teenager.
He trained at Bristol University and headed to New Zealand after qualifying because his professor, Les Toop, had spent some time in Timaru and recommended the country.
“He said it was a good place to ski and play in the mountains, and in those days you could get a job straightaway in New Zealand and still get registration in the UK,” he says.
Graham didn’t make a very good first impression though, being arrested for drinking with a minor after hours on his very first night in the country.
“I was with the young receptionist in the local Grenadier pub at 10pm – not realising that in New Zealand the drinking age was 21 and the pubs were supposed to shut at 9pm!” he explains. “ I had to get a letter from Dr Fairgray, the Medical Superintendent of Christchurch Hospital, to get out of that one.”
But it seems Graham’s desire for change and new experiences couldn’t be satisfied with just one move, and, together with his wife Susan, they came and went, travelling the world until they finally put some roots down in Christchurch.
“After a few years doing radiation oncology, local doctor Rosie Ford asked me to come and work at Barrington Medical Centre. We developed a clinic offering lots of services, which wasn’t very common in those days,” he says . “It also gave me the opportunity to do lots of different things like hyperbaric medicine with well-known doctor, Mike Davis, obstetrics, musculoskeletal medicine – all sorts. In fact, I’ve always said general practitioners can help deliver anything in the community except general or intensive care. I love to dabble.”
Graham was an early member of Pegasus Health, a primary healthcare network in Christchurch founded by Dr David Kerr and others in 1993. Graham’s main role was working with the Les Toop to improve the education of GPs about pharmaceuticals and laboratory tests, initially, and later as a director on the Board.
“Crucially, we had the support of Carolyn Gullery, who was part of the Southern Regional Health Authority in those early days,” he says. “She subsequently became part of the Pegasus team in 2000 when we developed the Acute Demand Management Programme, which has helped many Canterbury people stay safely at home even when they are acutely unwell.”
“I was very pleased to be selected for this prestigious award.”
In 2006, Graham started to look at elective hospital services, which had long waiting lists to see specialists and for surgery. This led to the development of HealthPathways, facilitating better management of referrals, and the instigation of initiatives to increase the amount of investigations and care that could be provided in the community.
His current focus lies in Better Health, a network organisation that helps manage and develop practices to ensure they remain NZ owned.
“We really have to find alternatives to prevent overseas financed corporations acquiring NZ general practice,” he says.
Graham’s vision and innovation show no sign of waning as he continues to create and develop programmes for GPs worldwide, although he has just bought a boat on which to spend some time with his grandchildren.
“It’s not just me,” he says. “I couldn’t have done any of it without my wife, Susan, and the support and involvement of many colleagues in Canterbury Initiative, Streamliners, general practice and Canterbury hospitals.”