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Cautious approach to health strategy’s IT initiatives

NZRGPN takes positive but cautious approach to health strategy’s IT initiatives in rural communities

Telehealth and associated technologies appear to be the biggest initiatives for rural communities in the recently announced New Zealand National Health Strategy. While this is a pleasing aspect of the 10-year strategy, it comes with a proviso that rural communities and individuals – both professionals and consumers - must have the infrastructure and the knowledge to utilise technologies such as telehealth and patient portals, says Dalton Kelly, New Zealand Rural General Practice Network Chief Executive.

While applauding the overarching principles of the revised strategy, Mr Kelly said caution is needed in the area of health technology.

“In its submission on the draft strategy, the Network agreed with the principle of working towards unlocking the benefits of information and other technologies to better deliver health services to communities.

“However, we would caution against relying too heavily on this, too soon. There are vulnerable groups of people who will have added challenges engaging with smart systems. For example, in communities with unreliable broadband, communities prone to power outages and weather challenges. It is absolutely essential for appropriate levels of broadband access and speed to be available in rural areas to an equitable level with urban regions.

“The aim for all people to be able to access their health information electronically is unrealistic at this time. Reaching them through building relationships must not be forgotten when we focus on IT.

Research is also required to see how beneficial patient portals are for these patients. There is a risk that they will pamper the ‘worried well’, while not helping the patients who most need help.

“Areas where we see potential benefit from using IT more smartly are those where shared patient records can be safely and securely made available such as working more collaboratively with our colleagues in Midwifery, Pharmacy and allied health professionals through shared access to patient records,” said Mr Kelly.

Network chairperson Sharon Hansen endorsed Mr Kelly’s sentiments.

The New Zealand Health Strategy; Future Direction (2016) revises the previous strategy developed in 2000 and outlines the high level direction for New Zealand’s health system over the 10 years from 2016 to 2026.

The revised strategy encompasses five themes: people-powered, closer to home, value and high performance, one team and smart system. The second tier of the strategy is a “Road map of actions” and identifies the action needed over the next five years to make the strategy happen.

In its submission to the draft strategy on behalf of rural general practice and practitioners, the Network endorsed the Ministry of Health’s direction emphasizing the need to ensure that rural

people continue to have local access to sustainable, quality health services and secondly to actually improve the health of rural communities and to reduce the inequities in health outcomes and quality of life experienced by rural people.


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