Did I get a pass mark for my 2019 predictions?

Regular column by Scott Arrol, NZHIT CEO

With the benefit of hindsight, how accurate was Scott Arrol’s crystal-ball gazing into progress this year towards a world-class health and disability system in Aotearoa New Zealand?

At the beginning of this year, in my first eHealthNews.nz Industry View on 22 January, I did some crystal-ball gazing about the things I thought were going to be important during 2019.

As we head into the final weeks of the year, I’ve been doing some reflecting on these predictions. Have we made progress towards achieving a world-class health and disability system for all New Zealanders?

So, in no particular order here’s my self-assessment on how well my radar is working.

Security and privacy

Unfortunately, I got this one almost right on the button. I warned against a major breach occurring and it happened. Being right on this occasion doesn’t give me any pleasure, but I must also add that it wasn’t a difficult prediction to make as the warning signs have been in place for quite some time. I’m not going to add any more to this topic at this stage as it’s now actions that count. 2020 must bring major improvements in this area otherwise the Tū Ora situation won’t be the last.

Analytics and machine learning

This is an area that’s moving ahead quickly. My prediction was focused more on 2019 being the year we’d look back on as when the power of AI in health started to be better understood, both in terms of its strengths and threats. The AI Forum launched a very important report highlighting how AI promises to bring significant clinical, workforce and cost benefits to the health sector.

There’s no doubt this is the case, as it’s starting to happen now and will develop exponentially over the next five to 10 years. However, this great promise also comes with cautions, as the immense power of AI means several trade-offs will need to be made. Understanding what these are and whether we’re prepared to make them is going to absorb enormous amounts of thinking, discussion and (dare I say it) analysis over the next two to three years.

Mental health and wellbeing are important

Along with many other pundits and industry experts I got this absolutely correct. Starting in May with the significant Budget 2019 allocations to mental health spending in New Zealand, and the appointment of Robyn Shearer to the new leadership role of deputy director-general mental health and addiction, this year has triggered the much-needed uplift for this area of health in this country.

More must be done especially when it comes to fostering and supporting the development of innovative digital health solutions that will fully enable service delivery in this sector. The funding and current supports for digital health start-ups are well below par.

We’ve got to move away from “cheap as chips, sink or swim” tactics to a much more sustainable model of development and delivery. New Zealand has to have a strong and vibrant local digital health sector that also builds into an equally strong export-driven marketplace.

I must mention the fantastic recognition achieved recently by one of this country’s leaders in the eMental Health space, Anil Thapliyal. Anil is a global leader in this area and many of you will have heard him speak at recent seminars and conferences, including the eMental Health International Collaborative that he has been instrumental in establishing. Anil was awarded three prestigious awards at the recent Indian Business Awards and there is no doubt that New Zealand is privileged to have someone of his international stature helping to move the dial on our shores.

Virtual healthcare is on the rise

Yes it is, full stop!

Partnerships and working together will be more important than ever

We didn’t move as far as I had predicted when it comes to identifying and forming partnerships that bring the best of each partner to the forefront and minimise weaknesses. However, I recently wrote about the immense positivity experienced at Digital Health Week NZ 2019 and how much has changed over the past five years. In any case, “collabor-action” is the true test of whether a working partnership has been formed and I believe 2020 will fast track these more than ever.

I shouldn’t be too tough on myself when it comes to this prediction as there are definitely positive signs that the public and private sectors are finding new ways to work together, business models are changing and an outcomes-based focus is gaining a foothold.

We are definitely seeing a shift when it comes to industry partners finding ways to work more closely together. Whether this is the likes of AMS and Spark Health forming a partnership to deliver smart human-resourcing solutions on the cloud to the recent announcement that HealthLink and Konnect NET are merging to create Clanwilliam Health. These examples prove that (so-called) incumbency and innovation are not mutually exclusive.

Watch this space during 2020–21 as mergers, partnerships and collaborations are on the rise!

Simplification will determine success

There’s been progress in this regard as we’re seeing highly complex pieces of work being broken into smaller, simplified and agile methods. This is especially the case at the Ministry of Health’s Data and Digital Group, where there has been significant movement since Shayne Hunter’s appointment earlier in the year to deputy director-general data and digital. These deputy director-general roles are not for the fainthearted, as the need for leadership from the centre is needed now more than ever.

Those of us who have heard Shayne speaking over the past few months and more recently at Digital Health Week NZ will know how determined he is to make “good things happen”. He’s starting to bridge the gap between a complex government agency’s desire for large, complex projects (that struggle to succeed) and a sector’s demands for solutions delivered now.

The customer truly does matter

Back in January I stated that success is going to be defined by those who very clearly know who their customers are and how they’re going to add value to their lives. 2019 challenged many of the accepted norms, especially when we could see so many “customer-facing” applications on display at Digital Health Week NZ.

The primary care experiential village was an excellent example of where this part of the sector is heading. They’re not alone in this, as I estimated that in the main exhibition hall at least half the exhibitors (most being NZHIT members) were demonstrating digital health solutions built around the customer’s (patient’s) needs being put first.

A challenge ahead is making sure that digital solutions don’t create increased barriers of access and equity. Being ‘data rich’ is real and it’s great to see the fantastic collaborative work developed during the year to understand how the lack of data access can be overcome.

Now let’s take a break

I don’t know about you but 2019 certainly has been intense and I hope that you’re all able to get a good breather during the festive season. I certainly plan to.

It is an absolute privilege to work in this job as I get to work with and observe some of the most talented, clever and hardworking people one could ever wish to know. It’s because of this that I’m very optimistic about New Zealand’s ability to weather the storms in our health system as, ultimately, it’s all about people at the end of the day.

All the best, stay safe, have plenty of time with friends and whānau, re-charge and get ready for 2020!

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

Originally posted on eHealth News



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Anna Arrol

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