Computerworld Editor - Time is ripe for NZ healthcare IT overhaul

Sarah Putt
By Sarah Putt New Zealand Editor, Computerworld | 18 JUNE 2020 6:00 NZST

Major report into national health system highlights need for long-term digital and data strategy.

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The first tranche is focussed on connecting demographic, medicines and immunisation data and sharing it with providers and consumers. According to the report, the launch of this initial tranche is scheduled for next month. Computerworld New Zealand has asked the office of the Minister of Health for an update on the nHIP business case.

NZ Health IT CEO Scott Arrol says while it is understandable that further action on the nHIP business case has been delayed due to COVID-19, it should now be fast-tracked “so the country gets ahead of the curve in creating a health system we can be proud of and one we can rely on when the next pandemic comes along.”

Arrol told Computerworld New Zealand that the entire sector is aligned around nHIP and it’s important to seize the momentum, noting that the business case for nHIP is “keyboard-ready. … We can’t afford for further delays to occur. Crikey, we’ve already been waiting nearly 20 years for this level of validation to finally occur. There is a swelling level of frustration across the health sector from clinicians right through to patients that now is the time to be bold and brave and definitely not a time to be risk averse as there’s far more to be gained,” Arrol says.

When asked if the report’s recommendation that reducing the number of District Health Boards (DHBs) to eight to ten will make a difference, Arrol noted that lack of investment in IT is behind many of the shortfalls in delivery. “There has been a real stepping up of the leadership of IT people, so I’m hesitant to say that going from 20 to eight DHBs is going to be the panacea.”

He used the phrase “taking a knife to a gun fight” to illustrate the constraints that IT leaders in DHBs are faced with. Arrol referred to a government stock take of the physical infrastructure of DHBs, which noted that their IT assets were begin maintained "in an environment of accumulated underinvestment".

Arrol estimates that most DHBs spend about 2.3% to 2.5% of their budget on IT, while the global average is that IT makes up 4.8% to 5% of the overall health budget. He would like to see IT spend be ring-fenced, so it doesn’t get spent on other things. “We’ve got to ring-fence the IT budget and multiply it by two,” he says.

To read the full article by Sarah Putt is the New Zealand editor for CIO and Computerworld.

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