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Politicians Must Provide Vision For Digital Health

Election season is upon us and regardless of our own political persuasions we must use this election season to make sure candidates and parties are well aware of the needs of our sector and have a vision for doing what’s needed so that New Zealanders have a world class health system to be proud of, argues NZ Health IT chair Scott Arrol.

For the next six weeks the election campaigning goes into full swing. As usual, we will be bombarded with manifestos, promises, claims, counterclaims and much more. All from candidates across the political spectrum doing their best to secure a spot in the debating chamber post-October 16.

A new dimension

Covid-19 clearly adds a completely new dimension to this general election as well as the two referenda that may prove to be either an important aspect of the election result, or could be a distraction depending on individual voter’s world views.

So, why should we be interested in yet another general election? Primarily because it is the responsibility of all of us working in the health sector in general, and digital health in particular to hold candidates to account. Over the past few months, we have all experienced the ability for the health system to adjust more rapidly than ever thought possible yet we’re also seeing a slide back to previous ways of operating.

The Simpson Report has painted a picture of the type of system we could have in the future whilst the National Health Information Platform (nHIP) business case seems to be stalled. It is now accepted that health technology has a long term (20 years) history of under investment and we’re expecting good people to produce magical things for half the real cost. Areas such as procurement, sustainability of innovation, export, fragmentation and much more all need to be addressed.

A vision for the future

Regardless of our own political persuasions we must use this election season to make sure candidates and parties are well aware of the needs of our sector. Even more importantly, is to make sure their manifesto statements clearly demonstrate that they understand and have a vision for doing what’s needed so New Zealanders have a world class health system to be proud of.

We mustn’t let the ‘grand statements’ go unchallenged. I joined into a virtual political panel last week and was appalled to hear one candidate talk about the “tens of thousands” of young people that have benefitted from a recently released mental health app. Of course, she quickly added that the full evaluation has only just begun, which said to me that she was doing nothing more than political grandstanding.

My experience in the health sector is that we do not accept these types of broad-based, non-evaluated statements to be made. We expect efficacy and proof for the simple reason that we are dealing with other’s health and wellbeing. Therefore, we should not accept it from politicians who should be held to an even higher level of account.

Digging into the detail

If you find yourself listening in on a political panel, talking with a candidate or reading their manifesto then do not be afraid to get into the detail with them. Election season comes around every three years and it is the only time the politicians will actually listen to you so make the most of it.

Ask them things like; what will you do with the recommendations of the Simpson Report? What will you do with the nHIP business case? What will you do to improve resourcing for health technology? How will you solve the procurement challenges? How will you generate a strong digital health export sector?

Their answers will tell you a great deal about their understanding, or lack of understanding, of our sector and whether they have a clear and deliverable set of policies that will produce results. Sometimes, their answers may not suit your own views, but that is okay because this is the fantastic thing about our democratic process. This is your time to ask, their time to answer then you get to vote.

But, please do not let the ‘grand statement’ be made without an appropriate challenge as that candidate may well be in a decision-making position in the next government come October 16.

Scott Arrol is the CEO of New Zealand Health IT (NZHIT).

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