Liam Butler interviews Graeme Osborne, Director National Health IT Board. 

Liam Butler: Graeme, you have explained that “Too much health information is collected by professionals working for different organisations in many locations using hundreds of separate IT systems. Each of these systems has been set up by well-meaning professionals to solve a ‘then current problem’ in their part of the sector. However, continued use of these systems in relative isolation is counter-productive and ultimately unsafe for consumers.”  What approach can be used to counter this health sector problem?

Graeme Osborne:  We’ve seen significant progress in implementing the eHealth initiatives set out in the original National Health IT Plan first published in 2010. We’ve focused on enabling high quality information to be shared between health professionals and making consumer access to information a reality, such as:

  • Patient portals that are now used by 93,000 New Zealanders to access their health information securely on-line and manage aspects of their healthcare
  • All DHBs now use electronic referrals between GPs and hospitals – with over 60,000 eReferrals taking place each month. Electronic referrals are all about improving the communication between GPs and specialists, so the customer/patient is better informed
  • The four District Health Board (DHB) regions are starting to consolidate hospital-based clinical systems into shared regional information platforms, and are also investing in national systems supported by national contracts
  • An example of a national system is the Maternity system which is being rolled out to all DHBs (currently in use in 5 DHBs)
  • The community e-prescribing system captures real-time information on all prescriptions dispensed by community based pharmacists and is improving the quality and timeliness of
    prescriptions.

These eHealth solutions – integrating information around a person-centred view – highlight the importance of digital solutions to support a Smart Health System.

The time is right to reset the aspiration for the use of eHealth and digital solutions across the health sector.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman recently laid out four new areas of future focus for IT investment across the health system. This is the next 5-year phase building on from the original National Health IT Plan. It aligns with the goals of the draft New Zealand Health Strategy, currently out for consultation until 4 December 2015.

The four priority areas are for:

  • A single longitudinal electronic health record for New Zealanders will provide information via a patient and provider portals to enable clinicians working in hospitals and in the community to access important patient information in one place.
  • A digital hospital blueprint, to set a standard for the smart use of digital solutions to enable hospital and specialist services. The announcement also signalled that all hospitals and specialist services will be measured against the international Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) electronic medical records (EMR) maturity model.
  • A national ‘whole of person’ IT prevention platform – capturing information relating to current and future population screening programmes for individuals. This is an opportunity to design and implement a common, flexible IT prevention platform for immunisation and screening systems to support government priorities.
  • Data to support health and social investments by creating a health and wellness dataset to support government, health care organisations and individuals to make evidence-based decisions.

To be successful, digital eHealth solutions must be designed from a person-centred or customer/patient viewpoint, and must be acceptable to and widely adopted by clinicians from a clinical quality and workflow point-of-view.

The person-centred approach to improving access to and sharing of health information directly supports better quality and more timely care for new Zealanders.

Elderly people will directly benefit from these improvements as the health professionals they meet through their health journey will have access to better information at the point of care.

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