National Electronic Health Perspectives: New Zealand

As a follow-up to our 2011 Who’s Who in National Electronic Health Records post, we take a closer look at various national initiatives (see also our previous posts about Australia’s and Singapore’s programs). 

Chai Chauh, National Director, New Zealand National Health Board

Chai Chauh, National Director, New Zealand National Health Board

Today we welcome Mr. Chai Chauh as a guest on Infoway Connects.  Chai is the National Director for the New Zealand National Health Board which also has oversight responsibility for Health Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) within the country.  Prior to joining the National Health Board Chai had extensive executive experience with District Health Boards in New Zealand, and more than a passing interest in the management of information technology, both locally and nationally.

Chai has agreed to join us to share some of his insights into the national ehealth program in the nation of approximately 4.5 million people

Chai, New Zealand has become a global leader in the use of Health ICT.  How did that come about?

Well first of all, I have to say that we are recognized as a leader in the provision of healthcare.  A 2010 Commonwealth Fund study ranks New Zealand first in overall quality of care, coordinated care and patient-centred care 1. I am always struck by the degree to which our primary care and hospital care is integrated compared to other countries. The reform of primary care in New Zealand has been profound and has provided us with the foundation to increasingly integrate the continuum of care.   While it is still a work in progress, we are as well positioned as anyone to make it happen.  Given our size and the innovative culture in healthcare we can also make it happen quickly.

Secondly, we have as a country been on the ehealth journey for close to 20 years. So it has been a long term focused commitment, certainly with its share of ups and downs, but inevitably resulting in success and moving the agenda forward.  With the reform of primary care in the mid 1990’s came the introduction of EMRs for physicians.  From the initial distribution of laboratory results the provisioning of data from hospitals and diagnostic services has expanded enormously to the point where we have almost 100% EMR usage and are now able to do more complex data exchange, such as e-referral, and start to develop shared care applications.

  1. Davis K, et al.  Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally 2010 Update, The Commonwealth Fund, June 2010

Given the success that has been achieved thus far, why did the country see the need for a renewed ehealth vision and plan?

Yes, we released the National Health IT Plan in September 2010.  The plan simply outlines the next stage of our journey.  It is all about getting the right information into the hands of New Zealanders and their care providers, regardless of the care setting.

New Zealand ehealth planFrom a technology perspective we will continue to leverage our data exchange capabilities for things like e-referral, while at the same time rationalizing regional/national legacy systems and implementing linked regional repositories to support shared personalized care.  

The projects that we have underway currently are all aimed at achieving this direction over the next 2-5 years. 

Associated with the ehealth success within New Zealand there has also been an explosion of ehealth innovation from New Zealand software vendors around the globe – how has this occurred?

New Zealand enjoys a culture of strong collaboration between scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. Researchers and product developers work closely with clinicians and the health sector to identify medical needs, areas for improvement and potential technology development.  In addition, with the support and guidance of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise the country has experienced considerable success with taking products developed locally and marketing them globally. 

An excellent example today is the development of the patient portal for New Zealanders.  The current phase of this project has provided us with the opportunity to design personalised healthcare and make important medical information (such as medication, allergies, etc.) available for individuals and providers. It is these kinds of initiatives that keep New Zealand at the forefront of ehealth innovation. 

So, it is not by accident that we see companies like Orion Health, HealthLink, Intrahealth, Emendo, Optima, Atlantis Healthcare and others enjoying considerable success, not only in Asia Pacific, but also in Europe and North America. 

Chai, many thanks for dropping by.  The take-away I have from your blog is the significance of how the transformation of New Zealand’s healthcare system has been supported by health ICT innovations, and at the same time has nurtured the creation of world-class ehealth products and services from New Zealand companies. An amazing story. 

About Trevor Hodge

As Executive Vice President, Trevor Hodge is responsible for Infoway‘s investment strategies, information and technology directions, electronic medical record investment program, as well as project investments in Western, Northern and Atlantic Canada.
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