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University Awarded $7 Million for Nation's Health

University Of Auckland Awarded $7 Million To Improve Nation's Health

A University of Auckland initiative to improve the health of New Zealanders has been awarded up to $7 million by the Government to help fund the formation of the Institute of Health Innovation.

The institute aims to be a world-class centre for graduate training, research and entrepreneurship focusing on health innovations including new technology, systems and research-based approaches.

These innovations range from mobile phone text messages to help teenagers stop smoking, to comprehensive electronic patient records that include x-ray results, medication information and treatment history.

The funding, which will be provided under the Government's Partnerships for Excellence scheme, will see the Government matching dollar-for-dollar, up to $7 million in funds raised by the institute from the private sector.

University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon welcomed the Government's decision, saying the institute would meet a national need by using information technology to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

"A major world-wide concern for governments is the escalating cost of healthcare, the increasing burden of chronic disease, the shortage of health professionals, and the diminishing returns from increased spending. The situation is no different in New Zealand with health costs rising at a greater rate than our GDP. This is clearly not sustainable.

"The Institute of Health Innovation will focus on mechanisms for understanding and analysing the origin of these costs and delivering more efficient and cost effective healthcare. With the kiwi can-do attitude and a public who are open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, New Zealand is in a unique position to advance quickly."

Located within the School of Population Health at the University's Tamaki Campus, the institute will be unique in New Zealand, building on partnerships between the tertiary sector, private sector, Government and the community.

Professor Peter Smith, Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, says the institute will establish education and research programmes that are appropriate to the population's health needs and closely aligned with the Government's tertiary education and health strategies.

"New Zealand is recognised as one of the world leaders in its take-up of technology in the health sector. Our companies are known for their ability to develop innovative technology and health informatics products that can be marketed globally," said Professor Smith.

"We need to ensure, however, that advancements in healthcare delivery filter through to everyone, not just to those who can afford them."

Professor Smith said one way of achieving this will be to focus on projects that assist vulnerable and marginalised groups such as the disabled and the aged, as well as Maori, Pacific Islands and Asian communities.

"A good example of this is PREDICT- a web-based clinical decision support system for predicting and managing cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk in primary care. The purpose of PREDICT is to get the right information to the right people (practitioners and patients) at the 'moment of care'.

"Information that was traditionally 'owned' by specialists is now more easily accessible in primary care in a form that is personalised to the patient within seconds of requesting it," said Professor Smith.

Head of the Computer Science Department, Professor John Hosking, says he is delighted to see the University taking leadership in an area of social and economic importance to the country.

"This multi-faculty partnership will create a unique meeting point that blends innovation from top researchers in Medicine, Computer Science, and Information Science with the creative talents of our burgeoning health IT industry and the public and private health sector.

"It would be a challenge to find a similar achievement in Health Informatics occurring anywhere else in the world," he said.

The institute will develop a research laboratory to test new ideas in health informatics, and establish a learning centre for teaching and training.

While research themes will be flexible, some of the high priority areas are privacy and security of data, electronic health records (EHR), and the development, implementation and use of large population databases with unique patient and clinician identifiers, such as the Mental Health Information National Collection (MHINC).

A key feature of the institute will be the ability of private sector and Government partners to co-locate at, or adjacent to, the Tamaki Campus.

Head of the University's School of Population Health, Professor Alistair Woodward, says the School is delighted to have the opportunity to work more closely with the private sector.

"We have received overwhelming support for the institute from industry with key players committed to working with us. The performance of the healthcare system depends on providing the right kind of information to the people who need it, in a form they can understand and apply. There is a wealth of information out there, and we need systems in place to 'mine the diamonds' we are looking for.

"School staff are already engaged in a range of projects in hospitals and primary care. The Institute for Health Innovation will enable us to substantially expand this work," said Professor Woodward.

The institute will be led by a Director who will be appointed shortly.


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