eHealth News: Consolidating IT systems not focus of national health service

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

NEWS - editor Rebecca McBeth

Emily Mailes Ernst & Young

The new national health service will not focus on “ripping and replacing” DHB IT systems but will implement national systems where it makes sense to do so, the lead policy advisor for digital and data within the Transition Unit says.

Health Minister Andrew Little announced in April that the government is scrapping all 20 DHBs and replacing them with a new Crown entity called Health NZ.

Speaking at the MTANZ HealthTech Conference in Auckland on June 23, Emily Mailes said “digital health and data are going to be so critical to make this reform a success”.

Mailes said the details of the transition are still being developed, but all DHB contracts will automatically roll over to Health NZ and the new Maori Health Authority in July of next year when the new organisations are formally established.

She said there will not be a large focus on consolidating systems into one big solution by “ripping and replacing” what DHBs already have in place.

“There will be some enablers and solutions we want to deliver nationally, and we will do that as it makes sense, but there will be solutions and capabilities we want to keep at a regional and local level as it’s better for competition and speed,” Mailes explained.

Mailes said there is a lot of work to do to bring innovation and choice of digital services to consumers.

“We need to uplift and pay back the technical debt that exists due to underinvestment and look at the system settings that surround what we are able to do from a data and digital perspective,” she told conference attendees.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield addressed the conference via video link and said the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the country’s agility and ability to draw on all of its resources to achieve “quite a remarkable result”.

He said the Covid response is being regularly reviewed to adjust and improve the process and this should also be done across the wider health system to enable constant improvement.

The director general advocated the agile delivery method of standing a system up quickly and improving and adding value to it over time, in response to feedback.

He gave the development of the National Contact Tracing Solution as an example of a system improving over time, saying it was stood up in just one week in 2020 and is now on version 26.

“Health IT projects are not something that need to keep the Minister of Finance awake at night, they can deliver value and continue to deliver value as systems are developed,” Bloomfield said.

He said investment in technology to support the vaccine roll-out and funding to roll-out Hira shows investment in greater capacity in data and digital across the health sector.

Bloomfield also said the pandemic response had shown that in some instances the Ministry should be more directive to the sector and say: ‘this is the requirement, and this is how we are going to do it’.

“There’s a time and place for a more directive approach and we have started to use that appropriately, much more in our work as the Ministry,” he told attendees.

When talking about the health system reforms, he said data and digital are a fundamental enabler as, “it will be our ability to use data better and get information to people at the right times that will really help shift the system”.

Picture: Emily Mailes, lead policy advisor for digital and data within the Transition Unit

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