NZHIT View: A clean bill of health

Guest column by Tom Varghese, strategic business development manager at Aceso Health

Our healthcare sector has long held the promise that services could largely be delivered digitally, but until very recently, the scale of digital transformation has been slow.

This phrase is a hark back to the days of the plebeian ocean voyages when a ship’s crew had to produce a letter of good health to be chosen for the journey.  Ironically enough, the human race continues to chase a clean bill of health, not merely for travel alone.

“A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”

Covid-19 has helped to fast forward the future for digital health. There are a number of lessons to reflect upon. Firstly, obstacles to progress evaporated overnight. Services such as telehealth were up and running within a matter of days. Healthcare providers embraced rapid, informed, cross-functional decisions, and also focussed on leveraging existing investments to drive the change needed.

The other lesson is around the urgent need to invest in digital infrastructure and workforce capability. Covid-19 highlighted the chasm created by many years of gross underfunding. The pandemic showed us that we did not have the agility to move quickly. It also shone a light on our workforce capacity and digital literacy divide.

Moving forward, the government and leadership teams must do everything in their power to encourage innovation and calculated risk taking. Investments and incentives by management teams and boards can help to create the right ecosystem, to ensure long term success. It is also imperative that we equip ourselves and our teams by training for emergencies.

By investing in the right tools, allowing for rapid scale-up and being prepared, our healthcare system will be in a much better position to face pandemics, natural disasters and the likes of. That said, it is important to recognise that in response to Covid-19, the sector was able to implement and invest in digital technology without building up more technical debt. This was nudged along by highlighting platform products with a wider breadth of use cases as a trend worth its mettle.

The single biggest insight however, has been that in order to move forward with pace, we need a single purpose, a unified goal. Covid-19 gave us that goal. That is one the primary reasons for the success of our response to the phases of the pandemic gone by.

Let’s not put the genie back in the bottle

This year, we have seen pretty significant digital upheavals. Telehealth for example, which helps shift the power dynamic, empowering patients, improving experience and outcomes. In addition, the death of the old fax-based system has meant that the uptake of digital prescriptions has never been higher.

The other very significant transformation has been in enabling remote working whilst still being connected. We must ensure that the momentum gained is carried forward and embedded within the workflows.

The pandemic has given all of us an opportunity to take stock. Even pre-pandemic, equity of access to data was crucial, but often met with resistance. Covid-19 helped change this, at least in part. Throughout the pandemic response, increased cooperation and collaborative effort was seen across multiple departments, both government-led and at a regional level. All parties worked together to share information, and this enabled equitable access to digital tools.

All hands on deck: A sustainable, long term view


In many ways, health is no different from other sectors and it does not operate independently. One thing we as a collective must aim towards, is to learn from other sectors. It has become quite obvious that most healthcare organisations do not have a plan for a complete shutdown and systems failure. This is an operational challenge, and one that must be baked into the digital plan moving ahead.  

This plan can then be tailored to suit regional needs but is ultimately driven by a unified national pathway. Having an incident management system that empowers services to make their own plans and allows them to do their jobs well by offering good information, technical and logistical expertise is very important.  

The Covid-19 crisis thrust the change dial forward within the health sector with increased innovation, collaboration, partnerships across sectors and awareness of the need for good data governance. Equally important is ownership of the challenge of investing in digital healthcare and infrastructure to reinforce and grow the sector. This would also involve working with the tenet that the healthcare consumer is central and building the pieces around them.

It is heartening to note that these changes are also reflective of the indicated roadmap proposed in the Health and Disability Sector Review. Implementation of solutions allowing connected health systems driven by easily accessible data are keenly awaited. In addition, robust governance and leadership, addressing digital gaps and promoting investment into data and digital tools on a regional and national scale should be included.

The new normal is upon us. The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we ready to support our people to thrive?  

Tom Varghese is, strategic business development manager at Aceso Health

If you want to contact eHealthNews.nz regarding this View, please email the editor Rebecca McBeth.

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