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Digital Health Research to Be Top Priority in Combating COVID-19 in New Zealand

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruptions in health care, both directly from the infectious disease outbreak and indirectly from public health measures to prevent transmission. Because of this disruption, demand, capacity, and even contextual aspects of health care have experienced rapid dynamic fluctuations. As a result, in many countries, the traditional face-to-face patient-physician care model has had to be re-examined, with digital technology and new models of care being rapidly deployed to meet the pandemic’s various challenges.

This viewpoint focuses on new ophthalmology models that have adapted to include digital health solutions such as telehealth, artificial intelligence decision support for triaging and clinical care, and home monitoring. Based on technology, clinical need, patient demand, and manpower availability, these models can be operationalised for various clinical applications ranging from out-of-hospital models such as the hub-and-spoke pre-hospital model to front-line models such as the inflow funnel model and monitoring models such as the so-called lighthouse model for provider-led monitoring. Lessons learnt from implementing these models for ophthalmology in the context of COVID-19 are discussed, as well as their applicability to other speciality domains.

NZ Health IT general manager says that investment in digital technology research for issues such as disease monitoring should be a top priority for Aotearoa. The covid pandemic has called into question how public decision-makers handle a health crisis, and he has stated that New Zealand Health IT fully supports today’s government announcement of the latest funding for health research through the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

The council is responsible for managing the government’s investment in health research. “Digital health represents an opportunity for significant improvements in healthcare to deliver better health and enable more efficient and accessible service delivery models,” He then added.

“NZHIT wants to see a national Digital Health Innovation Network (DHIN) established, bringing together the health sector, entrepreneurs, investors and innovators, researchers, and evaluators to focus on new digital health solutions. “Research of digital health data can help develop future predictive models, quickly identify high-risk patients and present multi-variable patient-specific factors to support and enhance clinical decision making.

It has also been stated that research into health data science is an important tool for improving care systems and developing new products. Digital tool research in the health sector will also provide health consumers with new ways to improve their overall health and well-being. “We know digital health technologies will strengthen health systems and help meet the increasing demand for healthcare services.” New Zealand needs to buy into digital tools for managing health crises, such as the covid pandemic.

OpenGov Asia reported that during this crisis, digital transformation is more important than ever. However, it will not look the same as it did before the pandemic. Resources, both in terms of talent and money, will most likely be limited. Digital initiatives may need to be reprioritized based on their current relevance. New issues and opportunities may emerge with greater urgency. For some businesses, the forces of disruption may be so powerful that the long-term strategic vision must be rewritten.

In correspond, Singapore has launched mobile apps to notify people when an infected person is in their immediate vicinity. These apps’ data is directly integrated into monitoring tools, making it immediately available to public decision-makers. The covid pandemic has demonstrated the value of digital technology which greatly improves the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of policies targeted at social distancing.

This facilitates impact assessments and, as a result, promotes evidence-based action. This is true not only for pandemics but also for overall better healthcare management. Digital health research assists us in developing tools that can be purchased from other countries, which is also economically beneficial to the country. In contrast, the pandemic has unravelled the importance of digital technology for managing health crises and health systems in an unprecedented manner.

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