NZHIT View: A Time for Reflection

Scott Arrol

January 28, 2021

NZHIT View: A Time for Reflection

Tuesday, 24 November 2020


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Regular column by Scott Arrol, NZHIT CEO

Scott Arrol reflects on the highs and lows of his six years as chief executive of NZHIT, highlighting the achievements so far and looking towards the future of the organisation.

The past six and a half years as CEO of NZHIT seems to have sped past at breakneck speed.  There has never been a dull moment whilst there has been some massive highs and deep lows. Thankfully, the latter can be counted on the fingers of one hand and the former have been far more frequent. As I look towards my next adventure that starts in 2021, there’s always the inevitable looking in the rear view mirror on what has been achieved during my tenure.

However, before getting into self-reflection mode it is important to acknowledge those who came before me and the good work they did. The “Cluster” as it used to be known was formed in 2002 by a small group of the pioneers in the development of health software in New Zealand along with the support of the Ministry of Health and NZ Trade & Enterprise.

During its early formative period, the organisation was run by an executive committee until the appointment of Andrea Pettit as the first fulltime CEO. During her nearly five years in the role Andrea did an excellent job of building the presence and momentum for what was then a fledgling membership association. Dougal McKechnie followed Andrea’s tenure and it must be said that he did an outstanding job during what was an incredibly difficult period for the health IT sector in general and the Cluster in particular.

There is no doubt that being the leader of a membership body of any type is not for the faint hearted. If you haven’t done it yourself then it’s difficult to imagine the multiplicity of factors, ever changing situational circumstances and conflicting agendas that have to be navigated especially when you’re operating day-to-day on the smell of an oily rag and mostly on your lonesome. Hence, I have huge respect for what Andrea and Dougal achieved and thank them for their efforts.

Then, along I came in the middle of 2014 with no previous technology background but lots of experience and contacts in healthcare delivery, loads of enthusiasm and, some might say plenty of BS! Timing always plays an important part and it’s fair to say that I arrived on the scene when there were opportunities to bring a different perspective to bear. This included being able to do some things that would position the organisation for the macro changes that were coming into play at the time.

Framing the message is always important. There was a need to identify the organisation in a different way along with the membership being seen (by themselves and by others) as collaborative players in the public health sector.  Hence, the rebranding to NZHIT (the acronym of NZ Health IT) and insistence that members be industry partners rather than vendors.

It took a while, and a lot of criticism pointed my way but overall, this reframing has stuck. Whilst a seemingly small thing, these changes symbolised a different way of engaging with the sector. I am proud of those members who have embraced that ethos.

In the context of this article it is not possible to refer to all the things achieved. Positive outcomes occurred most of the time and tended to outweigh those rare times when I missed the mark. I am especially pleased with the way the majority of members and stakeholders got in behind the many initiatives to make good things happen. Nobody has to do anything I ask of them, so they have understood the benefits involved then made their contribution towards the common good.

The development of the Vision for Interoperability in 2016 was significant as it signalled that NZHIT members were willing to work in partnership with the sector to achieve something of high value for the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. The recent release by the Ministry of Health of the Interoperability Roadmap is especially pleasing as it provides important future direction and incorporated some of what we’d developed four years before.

Fast forward to early 2019 when we were commissioned by the Health & Disability Review Panel to provide a report on the state of applications across the country and industry’s view on factors needing to be addressed.  It was pleasing to see some of what we’d said in our report included in the panel’s final report.

Right now NZHIT is leading the development of the HealthTech Opportunities Report, which is being supported by the majority of members both financially and with resources of their own. This report will point the way towards identifying and achieving those opportunities in the future that will position New Zealand as a leader in the health technologies field. It is based on using the Living Standards Framework to identify how technology can make a difference in the health, disability and social sectors in a way that has intergenerational benefits.

What has been the most important achievement for me? Ultimately, it is the relationships and friendships that have been formed over the past 6+ years. As far as I am concerned, I have been privileged to work with some of the cleverest people in the World all doing their bit to make a positive difference to the lives of everyone living in New Zealand.

Across the board, this country punches above its weight and that is no different in the health technology and wider health sector. Of course, things are not perfect but there are a lot of people striving to make “good better, and better best”.

Ultimately, adding value for members (individually and collectively), stakeholders and the sector has been my focus. I have been accused of having high expectations of myself and others. I agree with this to the extent that adding value means exceeding expectations. Aiming high can be challenging for some but the rewards are worth the effort.

Finally, I have been told that I am leaving behind big boots to fill. That maybe the case except it is important for my successor to bring their own special skills to the role. Whilst the soles of my boots may need re-treading, I am pleased to be leaving a sound platform in place for fresh thinking, new energy and different ways of doing things. This is essential for NZHIT to continue playing an important role in participating and influencing the future direction of healthcare in New Zealand and globally.

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

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