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New Zealand Telehealth Forum Established

New Zealand Telehealth Forum Established

Auckland, New Zealand - 14 June 2011

The New Zealand Telehealth Forum has been established to promote the use of telehealth as a powerful enabler of change in healthcare delivery and is timed to maximise the benefits of the Government’s broadband programme.

Throughout the world, the growing use of Telehealth is playing its part in supporting integrated health care, empowering patients and bringing health care “closer to home”. It facilitates beneficial changes to the patterns of workforce deployment and enables the delivery of new modes of healthcare delivery such as this Government’s Whanau Ora and Better Sooner More Convenient policies. Telehealth has the potential to reduce demand for high cost services and improve the healthcare of New Zealanders with long-term conditions.

The new Forum will focus on ensuring telehealth is on the agenda for public service national and regional strategies, as well as private sector services. Malcolm Pollock, Director of the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI), part of the University of Auckland, who is acting Chairperson of the Forum, says that ICT can and should be utilised as a disruptive force.

He says: “Unlike most industries, to date ICT in health has largely been deployed to do more efficiently what has been done traditionally. However, increasingly it is being seen as an innovation enabler, changing existing practices and in due course helping transform the landscape of the sector. The jury is no longer out on telehealth – mounting evidence from overseas and New Zealand studies point to its effectiveness as a significant agent of change. The ASSET telemonitoring project run here at the University by UniServices is the latest example of telehealth demonstrating benefits to patients and clinicians alike.”

The Auckland DHB mobile telehealth project, a precursor to ASSET, won the TUANZ Healthcare Award in 2010. It was judged for its simplicity, with wide implications for the population, reducing cost of care and benefiting those with high medical needs.

Telehealth is the collective term for the use of ICT to deliver healthcare where patients and care providers are separated by distance. It includes technologies for remote diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, as well as health care related education, research and evaluation. It also includes remote condition monitoring of patients in their home by their health care team (telemonitoring), and the use of mobile devices to deliver healthcare and to support healthy lifestyles.

The National Health IT Board has funded the establishment of the Forum because it recognises telehealth is an important component of the integrated model of healthcare. Sadhana Maraj, Manager of Health IT Engagement at the NHITB, says this is especially relevant in areas that experience greater workforce shortages and limited exposure to all specialty and subspecialty services. “Telehealth also has system implications for how we manage health going forward. The NHITB’s focus is on supporting the achievement of better health outcomes and telehealth is seen as an enabler that will improve equity of access and support newer models of care to achieve better outcomes.”

Dr Michael Sullivan, Paediatric Oncologist and Telehealth Clinical Leader for Canterbury and West Coast DHBs, says equity of access is a cornerstone of the New Zealand public health care system. However, increased specialisation in health care delivery makes it increasingly difficult for rural and smaller regional centres to meet the health care needs of their population alone. In addition, the rapidly changing nature of health care delivery means many health services in New Zealand are fragile and vulnerable.

“To address these issues, new collaborative models of care will need to be developed based on regional and national clinical networks. The networks should also provide access to continuing medical and nursing education, clinical supervision and professional development programmes. We see telehealth as the enabling technology to support health care delivery across geographic regions and ensure the success of clinical network based care,” he says.

Forum member Sue Wyeth, General Manager at Northland DHB for Mental Health and the District Hospitals, is the telehealth sponsor for the DHB. She says: “The Forum will be an ideal vehicle for collaboration with others in the sector who are using or planning telehealth services.”

Members of the Forum’s Board include practicing clinicians, senior DHB managers, researchers and consumer representatives, all sharing a passion for the use of Telehealth . The CEOs of the Health IT Cluster and TUANZ (representing health ICT suppliers and telecommunications users) are also on the Forum Board.

An initial programme of work for the Forum includes a scan of current and planned telehealth activities in New Zealand’s public and private sectors and identification of opportunities for telehealth projects that could be supported by the Forum. Experienced telehealth consultant Patricia Kerr has been retained by the Forum to lead their initial programme of work.


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