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Health reforms: work on a national health IT platform already under way

Health reforms: work on a national health IT platform already under way

Some are already thinking nationally in New Zealand's geographically fractured health sector.

Andrew Little, Minister of Health

Andrew Little, Minister of Health

Credit: Supplied

New Zealand's health IT systems are a mess, lacking interoperability and consistency and blocking the ability to share vital patient data.

Health technology also suffers from chronic under-investment, according to a report last year from the national asset management programme for district health boards.

Massive, ground-up reforms of the sector announced yesterday by health minister Andrew Little have put the emphasis on creating a national system to replace the current stressed district health board model.

Efforts to build national solutions were already under way, however, according to a report from industry body NZ Health IT (NZHIT), launched by Little earlier this month.

The Ministry of Health had recently taken a lead by announcing the development of the national Health Information Platform (nHIP) to provide a "nationwide standards-based, interoperable and data driven foundation".

"There is widespread support in the health and disability sector for the nHIP, with some encouraging early signs of suppliers collaborating on integrated approaches to solution building," the report said.

The aim was for New Zealand to enjoy a flexible, connected environment and be ready for the next wave of digital health innovations where startup technologies are supported, the report said.

One of New Zealand’s key advantages was its existing high quality health data, including the National Health Index (NHI), a unique seven-digit identifier assigned to everyone who uses health and disability services. 

The NHI enables the exchange of patient information and provides an "excellent" foundation to develop a technologically enabled digital health ecosystem, the report said.

NZHIT also recommended procurement reforms to reduce costs and eliminate delays in moving from established need to implemented solution. 

These reforms should include refocusing funding from capital to operating expenditure as services shift to the cloud.

This would in turn deliver opportunities for iterative and agile enhancement of digital solutions and challenge current "structured business case" processes.

"These will need to be modified to recognise appropriate long-term relationship frameworks, not simply a short-term return on investment of a single project," the report said.

Changes should also promote partnerships between providers and suppliers to enable co-design and innovation, with fast and effective transition to full implementation.

At the NZHIT report launch, Ministry of Health deputy director general data and digital Shayne Hunter   described New Zealand's health system as "data rich, but insight poor".

“We need people to own their health and there's a lot that we can do through data and digital technologies to enable it," he said.

“We need to embrace our technology partners and support their endeavors, both here and globally."


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