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Future-Ready Healthcare: New Zealand’s Digital Approach

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The government in New Zealand has repeatedly emphasised the need to keep frontline services operational. Nowhere is this more critical than in the health sector, where doctors, nurses, and other personnel are essential to service delivery. The ability of these healthcare professionals to perform their duties—and their potential to enhance productivity in a service-heavy system—depends significantly on the back office.

However, the pandemic catalysed rapid transformation within just 10 months, achieving changes that might have taken a decade. Suddenly, funding for IT infrastructure became available. The healthcare system adapted by connecting with patients virtually, providing much care through telehealth, and limiting outpatient visits to the essentials. Digital, virtual, online, and remote communication with patients and among staff became the new normal.

A recent report highlighted that electronic health records could reduce hospital stays, with up to 30% of tasks potentially automated by digital technology and AI. Telehealth, digital therapeutics, and remote monitoring could save patients hours of travel time, with 20% of consultations now conducted remotely. Furthermore, virtual wards and emergency department (ED) facilities have been trialled, and some care providers have transitioned entirely to online access, although regulation is necessary.

In New Zealand, technology is increasingly integrated into healthcare services. For example, rural communities now have two convenient methods to access telehealth services. According to a report by OpenGov Asia, the public can contact 0800 2 KA ORA (0800 252 672), or their rural healthcare provider can refer them. This dynamic service, operational for a week, has already engaged 20 rural practices, with more set to join in the coming days.

When individuals contact the service, skilled nurses and Kaiāwhina initiate a triage process. If necessary, patients are seamlessly referred to a doctor. Jess White, general manager of a telehealth organisation, praised this innovative platform for providing rural communities with an additional option for receiving care.

Dr Sarah Clarke, National Clinical Director at Te Whatu Ora, underscored the significant impact of this service on the most isolated communities, where access to after-hours care, particularly without reliable internet access, has been a challenge. Selah Hart, Deputy Chief Executive at Te Aka Whai Ora, highlighted this service’s relief to rural Whānau, especially those with young children who previously had to endure long journeys for after-hours medical care.

This new rural clinical telehealth service complements New Zealand’s existing telehealth options, with Healthline (0800 611 116) continuing its regular operations. As technology evolves, these telehealth services can serve as a foundation for further innovations.

New Zealand is also planning improvements, particularly for primary and community care, with advances in telehealth, greater reliance on team-based care rather than just GPs, and triaging and other tools for urgent and after-hours care.

Many staffing ratios were established in the pre-digital era. It is highly probable that digital, virtual, remote, and online sources, combined with AI advancements, could reduce administrative tasks and paperwork, increase patient contact and care quality, and reduce the required personnel.

The potential of investing in remote and digital techniques in healthcare is immense. New Zealand’s health system requires investment, not necessarily in traditional infrastructure, but in cutting-edge digital technology that can transform care delivery. By prioritising IT and ICT advancements, New Zealand can ensure a more efficient, effective, and future-ready health system.


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