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NZ Urgently Needs Digital Health Tech Investment

New Zealand urgently needs more investment in digital health technology to help drive the economic recovery post-coronavirus, create full tech enablement to support healthcare delivery and play its part in protecting New Zealanders during the current pandemic and the inevitable virus outbreaks to come in the future.

NZ Health IT (NZHIT) chief executive Scott Arrol says the pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of the whole Kiwi health sector and everyone who works in it.

While it’s understandable for the government to prioritise shovel-ready projects such as construction and roading, this mustn’t be at the expense of keyboard-ready projects such as the proposed national health information platform, Arrol says.

“New Zealand must have a joined up, standards-driven health IT infrastructure that enables data to securely flow to where its most needed to enable the health workforce to provide the best care possible.

“This isn’t about replacing people for robots, it’s about providing already fully stretched clinical and non-clinical staff with the tech tools they desperately need when looking after their patients.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have a number of solid and reliable IT systems in place that have been upscaled and, in some cases, repurposed in order to meet recent demands.

“But now is the time to address the long-term under investment in digital technologies to provide the infrastructure and tech tools needed to deliver world class healthcare to all New Zealanders,” he says.”

In comparison to global investment trends, New Zealand’s public health system is spending approximately half of what it should per annum and this has been going on for the last 15-20 years.

Arrol says this is a shortfall of at least $300 million a year, let alone the additional spend to bring health’s IT infrastructure up to a point where we can achieve full digital transformation.

“This also supports the levels of innovation required to future-proof our national requirements and drive the very important export growth that will deliver dollars and expertise back into the country, for too long we’ve treated IT as a cost and not an investment in our health and wellbeing.

“The changes that have been forced onto parts of the health sector due to the pandemic have been immense, but they have also pulled down pre-existing barriers so that digital tech can minimise the full impact of these disruptions.

“Primary care, for example, had to very quickly close the doors on walk-in patients with GPs, pharmacists, physios, podiatrists and many more turning to telehealth and virtual technologies to keep providing services remotely.

“This has created an almost once in a lifetime opportunity to use tech to help lock in a number of these changes and considerably propel our healthcare system forward.

“We will see a mix of fully virtual and hybrid general practice services that will increasingly become consumer-driven, provided from anywhere in the country, or possibly the world, caused by historical physical barriers being dropped and replaced by digital technologies, but this takes investment and the vision to push forward at a time when some will want to slip back to pre-Covid ways of working.

“We’ve already got world leading digital health providers, tech-savvy clinicians and managers all of whom are doing their best to meet the ever-increasing health demands being placed on them.

“However, this is not enough to stem the tide and there’s no hiding the fact that New Zealand’s already stretched health system now needs a digital tech injection that is long overdue.”

NZHIT is the key go-to health tech organisation representing the health IT industry sector and has many members with digital solutions that enable the delivery of virtual healthcare.

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