New Zealand’s health IT investment is lagging behind other countries and modernisation is a key focus for the next three years, Te Whatu Ora chief data and digital Leigh Donoghue says.
Donoghue spoke at Co:Lab 2023 – New Zealand’s Lab Sector Forum – in Wellington on September 21 where he talked about the need to improve the current “crumbling infrastructure”.
“I say to our board, ‘tech debt is not what you read in a risk paper, it is what you read on the front page of the New Zealand Herald’.”
He gave the recent example of Wellington hospital’s IT systems going down after servers overheated, leading to the cancellation of services.
“We have pretty much had a major incident every month since I have been here somewhere around the country.”
Donoghue told the audience that while health systems globally are behind other industries when it comes to digital spend, New Zealand’s health system is also behind other countries in terms of the level of investment in health technology.
Te Whatu Ora cannot deliver a 21st century care system without strong digital foundations, and a core part of this is making clear choices about national platforms.
He gave the example of the new National Data Platform, which is being built on Snowflake.
“In the near term, we are making choices in terms of technical platforms. We will work with the clinicians to identify no more than two platforms in each domain.”
He gave the example of the national maternity system as an example of a domain.
“We can then concentrate around what we do from an interoperability standpoint,” said Donoghue.
“I am particularly interested in innovations or advancements that release capacities, save money, free up clinician time to save patients, and leverage infrastructure facilities that we have.”
He said in the current fiscal environment there are no big cheques to be written so, “we need to sweat what we have”.
Donoghue said he is also interested in what can be done from a diagnostics standpoint to improve access and outcomes around cancer care, then extending this to other domains and diagnostics.
Globally, there is just one other country that is attempting the scale of health reform being undertaken in New Zealand and that is Saudi Arabia.
“National reform of this scale is genuinely a once in a generation opportunity,” he said.
“The government hasn’t prescribed what this will be, but they have created the enabling context to enable this to happen.”
Donoghue told the audience there is now an ability to focus investment on national priorities, to drive greater consistency and drive towards common standards and global directions.
“The more we operate in isolation, the more we limit our ability to tap innovation and investment that is happening globally,” he said.
“The more we build custom solutions, the more we build ourselves into a corner.”
The rise of the middle class worldwide will only put more pressure on health workforce shortages, which drives an imperative to “rethink and redesign services and to use technology in a different way to augment our workforce”.
Donoghue explained that Te Whatu Ora is still very early in the reform journey as the merger process has been an enormous undertaking.
“This is not something that is done or judged in 12 months: this is a long-term transformational journey.”
Picture: Te Whatu Ora chief data and digital Leigh Donoghue