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Taking The Pacific Into A New Medical Age

20 August 2004

Taking The Pacific Into A New Medical Age

A team of Health Informatics staff from the University of Otago’s Information Science Department is taking the South Pacific into a new era of medical capabilities as part of a World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative to educate medical staff in the Pacific.

Over the past six months the team, led by Dr John Gillies, Mr Alec Holt and Dr Bernie Brenner, has taught the Essential information management skills paper (part of the Otago Postgraduate Diploma in Health Informatics) to a group of 35 medical practitioners in Suva, Fiji. The distance programme introduced the participants to computing and information systems concepts appropriate to medicine.

According to Mr Holt, electronic information systems are revolutionising health-care practice, research and education. He says the efficient management of information has been found to improve patient satisfaction and to increase the time available for new aspects of practice and for medical learning. Growing numbers of health-care professionals are also realizing that they need skills in finding and using information, and in assessing information systems.

The Otago group was contracted by WHO as part of the Pacific Open Learning Health Net pilot project. The project is aimed at improving the skills of medical practitioners in the Pacific region so that they can become educators and mentors for future project participants in Pacific countries including Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.

“Our Health Informatics course has been hugely successful in Fiji. We had 35 students go through, all of whom were really conscientious and eager to learn the topic. I really enjoyed teaching them, they’re a great bunch to work with,” says Mr Holt.

The course was so successful that the Health Informatics team has extended the programme in Fiji. In late August, Dr Gillies and Mr Holt will again travel to Fiji to teach the follow-up course Principles of Health Informatics, which explores the integrated health information system further. Of the original 35 participants, 16 have signed on again, this time as full-fee paying students.

The group is also in discussions with WHO to extend the pilot project to Samoa and Tonga in 2005, teaching the same course that proved to be so popular in Fiji.

“We will be visiting Samoa and Tonga in the next couple of months to assess whether we can replicate the Fijian pilot. There are many different organisations involved in this project so it is essential to find out who we will be working with in the communities and how we can run the programmes,” says Mr Holt.

“We are also working with organisations such as New Zealand AID, the Ministry of Health in New Zealand and Fiji and the Medical School in Fiji to establish scholarships to provide ongoing teaching resources and education.”

In New Zealand the Otago Postgraduate Diploma in Health Informatics has proved to be highly valuable to medical practitioners. More than 150 practitioners (clinical administrative staff, nurses and doctors) have completed papers since the course began in 1997.

The programme, run through the Information Science Department in the School of Business, is a distance learning programme with face-to-face workshops at the beginning of each paper. The course material for each paper is provided on CD-ROM and Internet homepages set up by the Health Informatics team.


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