New Zealand's digital health technology is in dire need of more investment to support healthcare delivery during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NZ Health IT.
Future virus outbreaks will be inevitable, and NZ Health IT chief executive Scott Arrol says the current pandemic has highlighted just how important the New Zealand health sector is.
While the Government will undoubtedly prioritise some projects, they can't be at the expense of others – particularly the proposed national health information platform.
Arrol says that New Zealand requires a joined-up, standards-driven health IT infrastructure that enables data to securely flow to where its most needed to enable the health workforce to provide the best care possible.
“This isn't about replacing people for robots, it's about providing already fully stretched clinical and non-clinical staff with the tech tools they desperately need when looking after their patients,” he says.
Fortunately, New Zealand has some reliable systems in place that have grown, there is still under-investment in digital health technologies.
In comparison to global investment trends, New Zealand's public health system is spending approximately half of what it should per annum. This underspending has been going on for the last 15-20 years, NZ Health IT claims.
That results in a $300 million shortfall every year, in addition to the investment required to bring the whole of New Zealand's healthcare IT infrastructure up to scratch.
“For too long we've treated IT as a cost and not an investment in our health and wellbeing,” says Arrol.
“The changes that have been forced onto parts of the health sector due to the pandemic have been immense, but they have also pulled down pre-existing barriers so that digital tech can minimise the full impact of these disruptions.
“Primary care, for example, had to very quickly close the doors on walk-in patients with GPs, pharmacists, physios, podiatrists and many more turning to telehealth and virtual technologies to keep providing services remotely.
Such developments can help to propel the healthcare system forward, Arrol believes. That could include anything from virtual and hybrid general practice services, and the elimination of physical barriers through new digital technologies.
“We've already got world-leading digital health providers, tech-savvy clinicians and managers all of whom are doing their best to meet the ever-increasing health demands being placed on them,” says Arrol.
“However, this is not enough to stem the tide and there's no hiding the fact that New Zealand's already stretched health system now needs a digital tech injection that is long overdue.