Health Informatics New Zealand: where to from here?

This story first appeared in the October 2014 issue of Pulse+IT Magazine.

Health informatics underpins a nation’s ability to deliver an affordable, flexible health system that will provide better health outcomes to its citizens, but how do you create a health informatics expert? Do you teach a clinical person about IT, or do you teach an IT person about healthcare? The short answer is we need to do both.

Health Informatics New Zealand (HiNZ) is a non-profit organisation founded 14 years ago from the amalgamation of two special interest groups: nursing informatics and medical informatics. A group of energetic volunteers then established an annual conference to provide a platform to leverage local and international best practice, and support the development of the health informatics field in New Zealand.

Since then the New Zealand health sector has changed dramatically. Topics such as predictive analytics, self-management and the patient portal are more broadly developed yet they continue to change and influence health policy. There has been a significant shift in the way health IT projects are funded, controlled and delivered with the establishment of the National Health IT Board and its subsequent release of the National Health IT Plan in 2010.

"HiNZ is in a transition phase," HINZ chair Liz Schoff says. "To deliver better value to our members we have moved from an all-volunteer structure focused on an annual event, to a more strategic model with a full time chief executive. Our goal is to deliver additional services, ongoing communities of practice and collaboration with other health organisations in New Zealand."

Health informatics underpins a nation’s ability to deliver an affordable, flexible health system that will provide better health outcomes to its citizens.

Health informatics is the field that deals with the storage, retrieval, sharing and optimal use of health information, data and knowledge for problem solving and decision making. It covers a broad range of activities including electronic health records, knowledge management, decision support, telemedicine and telehealth, standards, evidence for benefit/harm, ethics and security.

But it is about far more than technology. Increasingly, the focus within the health informatics field is on communication and change management. Without effective communication, technology projects are unlikely to be successful.

Delivering on these large-scale health sector projects requires the use of multi-disciplinary teams. To deliver workable solutions we need the combined expertise of clinical experts and technology experts.

So how do you create a health informatics expert? Do you teach a clinical person about IT? Or do you teach an IT person about healthcare? The short answer is we need to do both. If we are to be successful in designing effective solutions to transform the health sector, New Zealand needs clinicians who know about IT and technology experts who know about health. In other words, we need many more health informatics practitioners, now and in coming decades.

The purpose of HiNZ

HiNZ has five key reasons for being:

  • To provide a platform for the distribution of information about best practice in health informatics
  • To encourage and enable collaboration on health informatics issues
  • To support the professional development needs of our members in the field of health informatics
  • To encourage more people to develop dual expertise in health and technology
  • To raise awareness of the value that health informatics brings to the health sector.

The funding for HiNZ comes from membership fees, event registration fees, trade exhibitions, vendor sponsorship and government grants. We have no majority funder from any institution, organisation or government source, which allows us to be an independent entity.

Membership of HiNZ is for anyone with an interest in health informatics. As a consequence, compared to other professional organisations, ours has an unusually diverse membership base.

Members include clinicians, health sector managers, government personnel, vendors, academics, IT professionals and other NGOs. HiNZ builds and strengthens connections between these groups.

The key differentiator of HiNZ is its neutrality. Our most important function is to provide a safe, neutral environment, within which collaboration can sprout and grow. The health IT sector encompasses a wide range of stakeholders, from non-profits to commercial entities; from organisations with 10,000 employees to one-man consultancy practices.

HiNZ is not a lobby group for any one group, we have no political affiliations, and we do not choose favourites. HiNZ aims to provide a level playing field and encourages the sharing of ideas across the sector.

Many HiNZ members are in competition with each other. Some are competing for a slice of government funding or for research grants. Others are competing to win commercial contracts. Some compete within an organisation for a share of its limited operational budget.

It can be difficult in such a competitive environment for important conversations to take place, but they need to take place if the field of health informatics is to reach its full potential and enable the delivery of effective health solutions to all New Zealanders. HiNZ helps give everyone a voice around the table.

Changes underway

For 13 years HiNZ has run a conference that brings together the movers and shakers in health informatics. The conference has been the foundation activity of HiNZ, and this will continue, but to be effective HiNZ needs to do much more than this.

Since my appointment as chief executive, I have spent a lot of time listening to members: researching what they want, how they want it delivered, and where and when they want it. It is already clear we need to deliver information and support to our members in more diverse ways.

Based on international trends, we also need to be ready to support further changes in communication technologies, portability, genomics and telehealth in addition to managing changing public expectations and the digital divide.

Importantly, we need to broaden our reach beyond the current HiNZ membership. The health sector has changed and there is a broader awareness of the need for integrated health teams that include all players in the health sector: information specialists, clinical specialists, administrative staff, policy makers and patients. HINZ is reaching out to those who have not been able to easily leverage the value of health informatics.

Historically, HiNZ has primarily engaged with people who are knowledgeable about both technology and the health sector, and who might identify themselves as a health informatician. For health informatics to deliver on its full potential, HiNZ needs to engage with a much wider group.

We need to more directly target health sector experts who have minimal knowledge of technology, and technology experts who have limited knowledge of the health sector. For technology solutions to be successful, the clinician’s point of view must be taken into account, and end users need to understand more about technology. This wider group includes decision makers who will have a large influence on the future of the New Zealand health care sector.

HiNZ is now focused on this broader constituency when planning and assessing future activities.

Looking ahead to 2015

To engage with clinicians we are taking health informatics to them, rather than expecting them to seek us out. Last year HiNZ launched the popular Primer Series, free workshops held in hospitals for clinicians who wished to learn more health informatics. HiNZ has been invited to deliver a health informatics stream within the 2015 Lab Meeting for senior laboratory staff and pathologists. We welcome invitations from other professional groups who would like their members to learn more about health informatics.

In 2015 HiNZ will support a wider range of seminars and events, starting with a hackathon on self-care health solutions at the University of Auckland in February 2015.

The Certified Health Informatics Australasia (CHIA) qualification was recently launched by the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) and the Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI). We are in discussions with these organisations to bring a local version of the CHIA certification to New Zealand.

As a visible symbol of our transition, we have updated the HiNZ logo to reflect our role as a member based organisation that brings together a diverse group of people to collaborate.

We are currently focused on preparing an exceptional 2014 conference. The HiNZ Conference, “Making IT work for you today: Routes to transformational change”, is being held at Sky City in the Auckland CBD from November 10 to 12.

Here are five reasons why you should attend the 2014 HiNZ Conference:

  • Gain actionable solutions: learn practical ideas and best practices from end user case studies and scientific papers.
  • Meet the leaders: hear about transformation priorities direct from the PHO and DHB CEOs and NHITB.
  • Share ideas: connect and share with your peers at networking functions across three days.
  • Be Inspired: by expert keynote speakers such as Dr Ngai-Tseung Cheung (CMIO), Dr Ciro Cattuto (director, ISI Foundation Italy), Geraldine McBride (ex-SAP), Craig Richardson (Wynyard Group), Professor Enrico Coiera (University of NSW), Professor Trish Greenhalgh (Prof Primary Health Care), Robyn Cook (University of NSW), and others.
  • Attend expert workshops: dive deeper into your area of expertise by attending one of five optional workshops.

For more information go to

About the author

Kim Mundell was appointed chief executive of HiNZ in April 2014. Kim was previously CEO for a government-funded disability service provider and owner of Healthy Food Guide magazine. Through her consulting business, Kim provides business advice to non-profit organisations. She originally trained as a registered nurse.

Posted in New Zealand eHealth

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