Little’s promise for technology in healthcare

Sweeping changes are afoot in the New Zealand healthcare sector, with the government this week announcing its response to last year’s Health and Disability System Review report. Gone will be the 20 district health boards to be replaced by a national health service called Health NZ that promises to do what has never been done before – work for patients, for the health workforce, and the wider community.

Using technology to deliver better access and better outcomes is high on the agenda, and Health Minister Andrew Little seems keen to emphasise how digital tools can help achieve long wished for goals like bringing services closer to people’s homes and communities, reducing duplication and improving IT procurement practices, and ensuring patients don’t have to share the same information time and time again.

“With appropriate safeguards in place, you should be able to turn up anywhere in the health system and know that the health professional seeing you has access to relevant health information about you,” he said.

Yes, we have all heard this before, most notably when the previous government announced its plans for a national electronic health record back in 2015. This was later ditched for the national Health Information Platform, details of which are still a bit sketchy, but which envisages IT systems rolling out on a regional basis using existing technologies: aka, no funding is available so make do with what you’ve got.

(We have also seen health IT procurement moved to a national footing under the previous National government, with its grand plans for reducing duplication and saving money through the creation of shared hospital services organisation Health Benefits Ltd, which ended up not only achieving nothing but costing money rather than saving it.)

Everyone is hoping for the best, however. The NZMA says it’s a fan of the plan, National is not, and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners just wants to see if any more money is available for GPs. Same old, same old.

Another sector going through sweeping changes in Australia’s aged care industry, subject of an excoriating Royal Commission report earlier this year. The Royal Commission recommended big investments in technology to improve outcomes in the system, including linking up different record systems like My Health Record and My Aged Care and making sure all residential aged care providers use a digital care management system.

This week, the Aged Care Industry IT Council launched a new project aimed at finding out some much needed detail on the use of clinical software in residential aged care. There have been attempts at this in the past but hard data is hard to come by, so all providers are encouraged to take part in the survey.

Electronic medical records were also in the news this week, with Queensland Health’s much maligned ieMR going live at the new Surgical, Treatment and Rehabilitation Service (STARS) in Brisbane. STARS is part of Metro North Hospital and Health Service, the largest HHS in the state and which handles about 40 per cent of acute care patient activity, mainly through Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

RBWH was set to go live with the ieMR when a pause to the statewide roll-out was announced in 2019 under a great deal of media scrutiny. With STARS showing the way, it will be hoping to start again. As one of the STARS team told us, the success of the project will probably not be in anticipated benefits such as reductions in medication mishaps or cost savings but on whether it stays off the front page of the Courier Mail.

Meanwhile, Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out continued to hit hurdle after hurdle. And despite Health Minister Greg Hunt’s assurances, we do not believe we are travelling well at all. A national re-set was ordered this week, so let’s see if that does the job. In the meantime, technology companies are continuing to provide support.

Speaking of which, after our query from last week about what the different jurisdictions are doing, the CIO of Tasmania’s Department of Health, Warren Prentice, tells us that Tasmania was an early adopter of the Oracle mass vaccination solution. “This is a state wide service and the solution was deployed in late Feb / early March with incremental optimisations related to AIR integration and changing requirements as advised by the commonwealth,” Warren says.

“The application supports online and call centre booking options per the technical specifications agreed with jurisdiction CIOs. The Oracle solution is mostly the same as the US solution with Australian specific configurations. It is hosted in the Oracle as a Service environment here in Australia and meets compliance guidelines as required by the ACSC.”

That brings us to our poll question from last week, where we asked: Do you think Australia and New Zealand have selected the correct IT solutions to support their respective roll-outs? Pulse+IT readers are a negative lot: 75 per cent said no, and just 25 per cent said yes.

This week we ask:

Will digital health technologies help New Zealand’s health reforms?

Vote here and feel free to leave your comments below.

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