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Pandemic Progresses Digital Identity Work

The Covid-19 response has progressed work on digital identity in health despite the pandemic delaying approval of the national Health Information Platform, the deputy-director data and digital says.

Speaking at an NZ Health IT event on 28 July in Auckland, Shayne Hunter said digital identity is a key piece of work under the proposed nHIP project that is still awaiting Cabinet approval.

He said delays due to Covid-19 and the upcoming election in September means it will likely be a while before nHIP funding becomes available. However, Covid-19 funded projects such as the National Contact Tracing Solution, the Covid Tracer App and a new National Immunisation Register are moving digital identity work forward.

He said digital identification is critical to the Ministry’s ambitions as it ensures the right health services are provided at the right time to the right person and improves information privacy, security and trust.

Consumers need a portable, interoperable National Health Index (NHI)-linked digital health identity and health workers need one linked to the Health Provider Index (HPI).

This would also release significant time and resource into the health system as estimates are that 60,000 consults are lost every year due to junior doctors spending hours verifying their identity and right to practice as they rotate around hospitals.

Another possible application is in the context of Covid-19, when people may need to prove they have tested negative or been vaccinated, before being allowed to travel. Digital identity also enables virtual care as it would enable systems to check who is trying to access information more easily.

Peter Marks, MoH manager architecture and standards, said being locked down in a digital-only world during the pandemic highlighted the importance of digital identity.

During the Covid-19 crisis, many patients wanted to sign up for an online patient portal, however the inability to verify people’s identity online meant they still had to go into a doctors surgery with identification before they could register.

While creation of a digital identity will not happen overnight, the Ministry is taking steps towards it, such as being able to gather people’s up-to-date contact information via the Covid Tracer App.

It is also moving towards allowing people in managed isolation and quarantine to self-report their health status online, as currently it is an expensive manual process with around 1000 staff calling people every day to do health checks.

It was also a time-consuming manual process to match up people’s Covid-19 tests with their NHI number as many Community Based Assessment Centres did not have digital systems with access to the NHI.

“Our health system works really well around an NHI if you have access to it, but if you don’t, you are out on your own,” Marks told attendees.

Alan Bell, director of digital identity at the Department of Internal Affairs, said the DIA has worked with the MoH on a Digital Identity Trust Framework: a set of standards, rules and agreements governing the operation of a digital identity ecosystem.

Bell said the framework “sets the rules of the game people must abide by” and will enable people and organisations to have trust and confidence in each other.

He said digital identity work will support the country’s economic recovery and the DIA is looking for agencies and organisations that want to be involved in pilots to show the benefits.

Andrew Weaver, executive director Digital Identity NZ, said the results of a recent survey showed that when New Zealanders were asked who they trust with their personal information and identity, banking came top and healthcare came second, with government ranking significantly below healthcare organisations.

This is good news for the health sector when it comes to establishing a digital identity as “trust is a huge part of this equation”, he told attendees.

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