Jenni Falconer is Chief Executive of Emergency Consult and was named the 2023 Emerging Leader of the Year at the Waikato Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction, on November 17.
When Jenni Falconer was working as a nurse along the three other co-founders of Emergency Consult in the late 1990s, they would see around 50 patients per day through the hospital’s emergency department. And patients weren’t waiting hours to be seen.
Fast forward 20 years and Jenni and “the boys”, as she calls them, could see something needed to change. The number of patients presenting at ED and after-hours clinics had exploded, wait times were horrendous. So they came up with a novel solution: Emergency Consult provides 24-hour urgent care remotely. An expert team of doctors and nurses see and treat patients on-demand via web-based video chat.
And now Jenni has been named Emerging Leader of the Year at the Waikato Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction, for her commendable leadership and strategic acumen as Emergency Consult’s CEO. While Emergency Consult picked up the Innovation Award.
“When set it up in 2019 we were working in emergency medicine and saw all these people turning up to ED and wondered ‘how do we take ED to the people?” Jenni said.
“We thought we could help people who were time poor and who could afford to pay to see a doctor.”
Then Covid came along and nobody could get in to see a doctor, which is when Emergency Consult was approached by the Waikato DHB to support people stuck at home and needing to see a doctor.
“It quickly became evident that there was huge demand for remote specialist support from within the healthcare sector itself,” Jenni said.
Today, a range of healthcare providers leverage the on-call service. Emergency Consult’s team of emergency medicine specialists provide virtual support to hospital EDs, rural clinics, nurse-led clinics, ambulance services and pharmacies.
And a team of senior registered nurses provide Covid care, acute care triage, and aged care support.
Emergency Consult has grown rapidly, from approximately eight staff initially (including the four founders) to almost 90.
Jenni said that while “telehealth” has been emerging internationally as a cost effective and convenient means of delivering health care in recent years, Emergency Consult has taken the concept a step further by offering 24-hour care on-demand.
And the benefits of having timely access to emergency medicine clinicians is obvious: hospital avoidance, healthcare savings and better patient outcomes.
Perhaps the best example of that is the pilot that Emergency Consult has underway with St John in Auckland. Of the 2800 patients seen by Emergency Consult remotely, 82 per cent managed to remain at home rather than be transported to an ED.
Jenni was humbled to learn her team had nominated her for Emerging Leader of the Year.
“It was a really nice surprise to find out they’d nominated me and then to read what they’d written. The judging process was a great opportunity for reflection. You do forget how far you’ve come. Talking with the judges about our business gave me the chance to pause and reflect. I was very humbled to even be a finalist, let alone win.
“And to be a leader you need to have a team. I’ve surrounded myself with people who’ve helped make this journey easy in some ways and certainly enjoyable.”
While Jenni still classifies Emergency Consult as a start-up, they have many opportunities for expansion and scaling up. They’re set to open a bricks-and-mortar clinic in Papamoa soon.
“That seems contrary to telehealth, but we’ll have a highly skilled nursing-led team supported by the telehealth model. So you’ll come in, been quickly seen by a nurse who can either help or direct you through to a virtual consult with a doctor.”
They’ve chosen Papamoa as the trial because they know the population has mushroomed and Tauranga Hospital’s ED is under considerable pressure. If it’s successful, they’ll look to roll out the same model in other locations.
“We’re always looking at where the next need is. We know that’s an acute mental health service, paediatrics, and in palliative care.”
The Awards judges said of Jenni: “In the business world, transformational leaders often emerge from unexpected paths. Jenni's journey from nurse to strategic business leader is a testament to this transformation.
“Jenni's competence led her to become a nurse manager. However, her entrepreneurial spirit could not be contained. Together with her colleagues, they sought innovative ways to improve healthcare for Kiwis. Jenni's vision drove her to harness online telehealth. Today, Jenni leads a rapidly growing enterprise. Her leadership goes beyond profit, focusing on improving customers' lives and well-being. She seamlessly transitioned her management skills into visionary leadership, demonstrating adaptability, innovation, and inspiration. Jenni's story reminds us that determination and the right mindset can transform a competent manager into a strategic business leader.”