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10 Min Read

Access for All – How New Zealand’s Healthcare System is Getting a Boost

December 16, 2021 / Greg Thomas

Data has fast become our new currency. Every industry recognises the need to transform and put its customers at the centre, and New Zealand’s health system is no different. There is an urgent need to transform the organisational and decision-making structure, as well as the fragmented IT system that supports the health system. The future of New Zealand’s healthcare industry is digitally enabled and allows staff and patients access to healthcare data and records.

Did you know that little, if any, of a patient’s information is accessible to them? In most cases, the alignment between what patients desire and what is provided is poor. This often results in over-diagnoses, over-treatment, and ultimately higher costs. However, recent mandates are providing New Zealand’s healthcare system the chance to digitally transform and create new work cultures that put patients and caregivers front and centre. This is an opportunity for healthcare organisations to understand their patients better and to understand the IT capabilities needed to enable seamless digital experiences. Research shows that patients often make different decisions about their healthcare when they are fully informed about treatment options. Initiatives such as Manage My Health form part of the digital transformation journey for healthcare in New Zealand, however, this is only a start.

From fragmented systems to constrained budgets, we have the opportunity to vastly improve the patient experience for the better. Here are five key areas to get started.

1) A New Way of Thinking

Technology is a small part of the digital transformation challenge. Changing the mindsets of stakeholders is a much more complex and challenging undertaking. Medical staff, administrators, and technologists all need to be purposefully supported and canvassed for their inputs – digital transformations of this scale cannot simply be ‘done’ to these critical users, they all need to be part of the journey for the change to be successful.

For doctors, they see technology as an inefficiency, it slows them down. For public hospitals that are hundreds of years old, the systems and processes are mostly manual. They have invested in modern diagnostic equipment, however, they haven’t invested in the digital platforms needed to make workflow and processes efficient. It’s about making data more fluid, as opposed to the current data silos that exist today. Private hospitals, which are newer, have been built with a digital footprint and tend to be more open to digitisation.

2) Access for All

The digital transformation of healthcare is not about giving tablets to nurses and doctors. It’s about ensuring health professionals have the technology and data needed to be effective in their jobs. Data must be readily accessible so that healthcare professionals can easily access, use, and manage. In many situations, the old and disjointed technology is too slow, too cumbersome, too manual, and lacks the relevant and current data needed for decision making. We are seeing healthcare providers achieve success using current technologies, including Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and automation. Traditionally most processes at a healthcare facility are manual, automating many of these manual processes results in fewer errors and the opportunity to up skill staff to do more higher value work. When employees are given the tools to increase productivity, their satisfaction also improves.

3) Successful Models

We’ve seen a lot of success in banking and financial services, which like healthcare, is a heavily-regulated industry. A teller at any branch of your bank has access to every interaction the bank has ever had with you – they know your financial status with them, your contact details, which of their financial packages you have, your transaction history and correspondence with them. Imagine if the flows of information in the health system were as frictionless as those in banking? Then all interactions with any doctor, nurse, hospital, or pharmacy would be readily available to all authorised users when and where they were needed. This would represent a huge opportunity to improve the quality of diagnoses and treatment plans, whilst also saving time. No longer would patients need to repeatedly provide medical histories and list what medications they are taking. They wouldn’t forget to disclose a prior event, nor subconsciously decide it wasn’t important. That would save time for every doctor-patient interaction and provide every clinician with your full medical background, eliminating potential errors or assumptions. This would bring two important and measurable benefits, improved quality of care as well as time saved.

4) Sharing is Caring

In today’s health system, most patient information is stored in disparate systems, local GP or specialist practises, Primary Health Organisation (PHO) cloud-based Practice Management Systems (PMS), pharmacies, and District Health Boards (DHBs). And, whilst there may be some limited flow of information downstream, there appears to be little, if any upstream flow of information. Thus, one of the fundamental promises underpinning the creation of a unified New Zealand Health Service needs to be a revamp of data sharing across the health system. It’s important to note that this alone will not give the nation a health information system that’s fit for purpose unless it is accompanied by two things:

  1. Support and effectively address the privacy concerns around storing information centrally.
  2. A cultural shift that places, at its centre, the person whose information is being discussed and who, today, has limited access to that information.

5) Embrace Digital Transformation

The underlying principle of making data more readily accessible to both patients and healthcare professionals needs to be a primary objective, in line with the goals articulated by the government. This means addressing privacy, mitigating risks when adopting new systems or ways of working, and making it easier for CIOs to access funding. But more importantly, as part of organisational change management, it’s about considering the perspectives of all impacted stakeholders, creating a plan and providing the necessary resources, training, and support to help them transition to new ways of thinking, working, and operating.

As a leader in Health IT, you need to ensure that the innovation and digital transformation journey is owned by everyone, not just technology teams or central IT procurement. When individual healthcare workers, healthcare providers and frontline workers all see data as a foundation to enable the reduction of stress and pressure on themselves, rather than a point in time burden, then you will achieve your goals. You will be able to make significant strides in the delivery of a digital healthcare service that improves patient care and helps save lives.

About the author:

Greg Thomas is a Solution Executive at Unisys New Zealand. Greg has worked across many different industries and sectors over the past 20 years within the Asia Pacific region. He has designed transformational solutions for application, datacentre, cloud, and end-user computing services, which have enabled businesses to modernise the way they deliver services to their customers.

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