New Zealand’s national health plan seeks ‘greater use’ of digital tools

An interim national health plan in New Zealand underscores the contribution of digital tools in allowing the health system to provide more care in homes and communities.

Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand and Te Aka Whai Ora – Māori Health Authority have jointly developed the interim Te Pae Tata New Zealand Health Plan 2022 which outlines a range of tasks in building a “unified, affordable and sustainable” health system.

It states that integrating digital technologies into the health service delivery system is an “essential part of the shift to a single health system.”

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

One of the six priority actions in the interim Te Pae Tata is to “develop greater use of digital services” to provide more care in homes and communities.

The New Zealand government is committed to “grow the opportunities” for people to use digital tools to access and use their health information, make appointments, receive phone and video consultations and use equipment to monitor their health at home. These tools include personal computers, smartphones, patient portals and digitally enabled clinical equipment for remote health monitoring.

“Access to health information, self and remote monitoring empowers people, whānau and communities to better manage their own health and wellbeing,” it explained in the plan.

The plan also points out the need for digital tools in supporting the health workforce. “Well-designed information systems can reduce the [administrative] burden for our staff, making the right information available at the right time and place, and capturing information updates easily,” it said.

To raise the uptake of digital tools, the following actions on digital health have been identified:

  • Create and implement actions to deliver national consistency in data and digital capability and solutions across Te Whatu Ora including streamlining duplicate legacy systems inherited from DHBs and Shared Service Agencies to improve intra-operability and reduce operating costs;

  • Implement Hira, a user-friendly, integrated national electronic health record, to the agreed level, ensuring the expected benefits of the investment are achieved, and taking all practicable measures to ensure that project milestones are met;

  • Scale and adapt population health digital services developed to support the COVID-19 response to serve other key population health priorities;

  • Improve the interoperability of data and digital systems across the hospital network, and between primary, community and secondary care settings; other

  • Improve digital access to primary care as an option to improve access and choice, including virtual after-hours and telehealth, with a focus on rural communities.

To successfully leverage digital services, the government plans to “invest in the infrastructure needed to support the automation of healthcare, bringing systems and services online to keep pace with demand and the public’s expectations.” Investments will also flow into providing more digital health options to improve efficiency and resolve operational and security risks.

THE LARGER TREND

The launch of an interim national health plan comes after the New Zealand government consolidated 20 former District Health Boards into two public health services – Te Whatu Ora and Te Aka Whai Ora.

“We have consolidated the public health system and now we have a plan to achieve national service coverage and nationally consistent operating policies,” Health Minister Andrew Little said about the release of the interim Te Pae Tata plan.

In Budget 2022, the government invested NZ$11.1 billion ($6.5 billion) in health – its biggest to date, which includes over NZ$600 million ($400 million) for the health system’s data and digital infrastructure and capability.

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