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Expert urges NZ to begin health system’s digital upgrade

19 May 2020

A New Zealand digital health expert has called for the Minister of Health to release the full findings of a report by the health and disability review panel.

Although there was an interim report released last August, NZ Health IT (NZHIT) chief executive Scott Arrol (pictured above) says it was effectively an update on their findings to date and didn’t contain any recommendations.

He adds that the interim report highlighted how advances in digital technologies would have huge potential to enable an information-rich, data-driven, people-powered approach to health care and to support the health sector in achieving better outcomes.

“Across the health sector there is a growing groundswell of support for locking in the beginnings of transformational gains made over the last seven weeks and now is the time to maintain this momentum and desire to create a world-class health system,” Arrol says

“We often hear the phrase the pandemic is a one in a 100-years event which has forced significant parts of the health sector to quickly adopt service changes that would have been unheard of under normal circumstance. Just look at the primary care sector for example where GPs had to close their doors within a matter of a handful of days and move to providing care to their patients via virtual means.

“This was tough on everyone involved but GPs and patients alike are acknowledging that continuing to provide a percentage of care remotely using virtual health technology must continue. However, the traditional structures and funding mechanisms in health makes it incredibly hard to sustain the new business models to make this a long-term eventuality.”

Chaired by Heather Simpson, the health and disability review panel was commissioned by Health Minister David Clark in mid-2018 and has carried out an extensive review of New Zealand’s health system.

This has included engaging across all layers of the system and drawing on experiences of staff and consumers. It has taken nearly two years and many millions of taxpayers’ investment to produce the report, so it is imperative to hasten its release without any further delay, Arrol says.

When the panel was established, NZHIT supported the minister’s initiative and has actively engaged with the panel to provide input relating to virtual and digital health.

“If the release of the full report is not palatable at the moment,  I strongly urge the minister to seriously consider releasing the recommendations as they relate to data and digital technologies,” he says.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the health sector to all New Zealanders and the report’s recommendations must be considered and actioned with urgency.

“The rapid change we’ve already seen in recent weeks during the lockdown combined with having a number of sound digital systems and good leadership already in place means we must seize the opportunity with both hands to push on with the national health information platform. A business case currently sits with Cabinet for approval, identifying the key priority areas so we can get on with the job.

“There’s one thing we know for sure and that is full-enablement of digital technology must happen if we truly want to have a world-class health system for all New Zealanders. Choosing to not grab this opportunity with both hands will continue to make this an aspiration that becomes increasingly unachievable.”