Q&A with Liz Schoff of HINZ

Liz Schoff, the new chair of Health Informatics New Zealand (HINZ), has an abiding interest in patient self-management and citizen engagement with the healthcare system. She is looking forward to a landmark year in health IT in her adopted country.

Pulse+IT: Tell me about your background. You are originally from the US?

Liz Schoff: Yes, I came to New Zealand about five and a half years ago as I'm an avid sailor and Auckland is known as the City of Sails. I'd been in Silicon Valley for a number of years and I decided I wanted to move overseas, and it seemed logical to move to the City of Sails because it was a passion that I was just beginning to develop in San Francisco.

Pulse+IT: Your background is in IT but not specifically health IT?

LS: When I was in the States I worked in a number of different industries. I was a consultant and I worked in the financial industry most recently but before that I worked in utilities, in government labs, freight forwarding, publishing – lots of different industries.

Pulse+IT: It was in NZ that you became involved in health IT?

LS: Yes. When I moved here I began to look for a role in IT and I was very lucky to fall in with Orion Health. I hadn't worked in the health sector previously but I was interested in it, as I think we all are. I started a role at Orion Health leading the professional services group for New Zealand, and that got me involved with the New Zealand health system. Then I had several other roles at Orion Health; at one time I was travelling quite a bit to Canberra and I helped to install the electronic referrals application for the ACT.

Pulse+IT: What are you doing now that you have left Orion Health?

LS: I decided it was time to leave Orion Health as I had several different roles there and I felt very comfortable in the sector here in New Zealand. I had been a consultant previously, so I did what many people do which is to take a month or two to travel around and come back to set up my own consulting business. I am focusing on program management and I'm particularly interested in patient engagement.

Pulse+IT: What do you think will drive patients to become more engaged in their healthcare and the health system itself?

LS: We have moved into an area where it's not just professionals in the clinical area who are driving the informatics and the technology. I think that consumers are, and I think consumer organisations are starting to drive it from the other direction. I saw a statistic that there are something like 17,000 mobile applications for healthcare and I think that individuals are beginning to recognise that technology can help them have a better lifestyle, and that is through wellness and health management. That is becoming so common now that it is driving from the wellness and the lifestyle sector back into the healthcare system.

Pulse+IT: Do you see this happening in New Zealand now?

LS: Absolutely. I think it will happen really quickly. Traditionally, you might think that New Zealand is a country that is so far away from other countries and has such a small population, but the Internet and technology really removes that as a reason to not be engaged with what is happening around the world. It is moving very quickly and I know of several organisations here in New Zealand that are beginning to deploy some wellness apps, and I think that will happen everywhere.

Pulse+IT: It's an interesting time for health IT in New Zealand with the National Health IT Plan. What do you think of the strategy?

LS: I think the National Health IT Board has really got it right. I think that by 2014, the expectation is that everybody in New Zealand will have access to their health information. That's just two years away. Some people think it is aggressive, only two years, but I think they are right on and it will happen very quickly. Patient portals, which of course come from the health system and try to engage the patient in their health – those have already started. There are all sorts of mobile apps that are already out there that people will start to adopt and adapt and move back into the health system. The idea that there is a patient record that has all of the information about that individual, and that we don't have silos of information, I think that is right on. The fact that we want every single New Zealand citizen to have access to that information is absolutely the right goal.

Pulse+IT: NZ is going about patient access to information in a different way than Australia.

LS: Yes. If you look around, you'll see that there are a lot of different approaches. In the UK there was an approach that was a lot more centralised, and now that is being looked at a little differently. If you look at the US, there is a big financial incentive to encourage groups of clinicians who traditionally didn't have the means or the understanding or the incentive to move to electronic health records. There are lots of different approaches around the world, but I think that at some point we are all going to coalesce into something that is very similar, but at the moment we are just taking a different perspective about whatever works at the time.

Pulse+IT: So for the coming year, what do you think will be the highlights?

LS: HINZ is a membership organisation so what really makes HINZ successful is figuring out how we bring the most value to our members. It's a challenge because we have a very diverse group of members. We have clinicians, we have clinical practitioners who come from NGOs and private practice, from the District Health Boards, we have members from government who set policy, consultants like myself, we have the whole academic contingent. But the one thing that our members have in common is trying to understand how we use information and how we can leverage information for better health outcomes.

What is challenging right now is that the industry is changing so fast. A couple of years ago we talked about the ageing population, chronic condition management and better patient safety, and that was more the focus for HINZ. But I think now, we have mobile applications coming along, patient engagement, we suddenly have a lot of data that is collected from devices and other means, and it is changing so fast that this year for HINZ, we really need to look at how our constituency, the members, have changed over the last couple of years and what is it that they need for us to do in order to bring them value.

For example, one of the programs that we are looking at is how can we put together a set of educational seminars to bring clarity to what health informatics is to a broader group of people. How do we get more consumers involved, how do we get more NGOs involved? Where have we missed out on groups that would benefit from being part of HINZ if we were able to reach them?

Posted in New Zealand eHealth

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