13 May 2021

NZ to be latest country to outpace Australia in digital health

Interoperability Telehealth

Despite a pandemic-driven boost in telehealth services, Australia continues to lag behind its peers in terms of digital health, with New Zealand unveiling an ambitious plan to centralise health services.

New Zealand’s Health Minister Andrew Little announced the changes last month, saying the current system was “overly complex” and forced artificial barriers between regions, professionals and populations.

“What it doesn’t do is allow us to focus on the needs of the New Zealand population and the system as a whole, or to identify and spread good ideas,” Mr Little said.

The overhaul would touch on four key aspects:

  • revising the scope and duties of the Ministry of Health,
  • decommissioning all 20 district health boards and replacing them with a national organisation, Health New Zealand,
  • establishing a M?ori health authority, and
  • creating a public health agency.

Mr Little singled out greater access to digital health tools and tailored local services as key outcomes of having a national body.

“Consumers have repeatedly asked for the ability to use modern technology, such as virtual diagnostic tests at home, the ability to book doctors’ appointments online and digital monitoring of health conditions,” he said.

“To put it plainly, successive governments have failed to deliver on this.

“With a truly national health service, we can deliver on this promise.”

In theory, once all the reforms were rolled out, New Zealanders should be able to see any health professional anywhere in the country and be confident that the provider would be able to access all their relevant health information.

As reported by Pulse IT, multiple peak organisations representing doctors, including the NZMA and the RNZGP, had come out in support of the plans, while Opposition spokesperson on health Shane Reti had expressed fears a centralised service would result in less autonomy for smaller regions.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has had a firm understanding of the importance of interoperability for almost a decade, and had developed interoperability standards and certification processes over the past five years.

Australian services, meanwhile, had limited interoperability despite a former ADHA CEO acknowledging that the concept would be key to making digital health viable.

Although an interoperability community consultation process was launched by ADHA in 2019, it appeared that very little had come of it thus far.

My Health Record-esque concepts had also been dropped by New Zealand, with the Ministry instead pushing for cloud-based solutions similar to those the NHS used in the UK.

Mr Little said interim versions of Health NZ and the M?ori Health Authority would be established in the coming weeks, with permanent appointments to be made in early 2022.