It’s no coincidence that David Cunliffe was allocated both the role of ICT Minister and that of Health; he’s both comfortable with technology and adept at relationship building. But in his speech to a recent health leadership forum, he made only passing reference to the role of ICT in the health sector.
Given that New Zealand companies have developed and exported some of the smartest health sector business applications around, it seems curious that we still have not yet invested in an integrated health I.T. infrastructure of our own. Apart from the obvious cost saving benefit, there is the alluring prospect of showcasing our homegrown technology to the world. Most importantly, such a system might save lives and alleviate suffering. Furthermore, the health sector has long been touted as a beneficiary of better broadband, yet we don’t seem to have made the connection yet.
The recent case of a patient whose lung cancer remained undetected is surely a prime example of a medical misadventure that might have been avoided through the use of technology. The gentleman concerned presented with a bowel problem. He then received an x-ray which incidentally alerted the attending physician to the presence of a suspicious mass in the patient’s lung. However no follow-up was done after the man returned home and four years later the tumour is now inoperable. With a high speed nationally integrated system, the query by the house surgeon would have been flagged on a universal patient file and the digital x-ray image could have been accessed by a specialist and the patient’s GP at any time. Why haven’t we implemented such a service yet?
The most obvious reason involves having the political will to allocate funding when there are competing needs within the health sector. The other reason is that it would be a lot easier to do if all health providers were linked by a proper broadband network. In fact if there ever was a compelling case for extending the reach of high speed networks then this it. There is one other hurdle. District Health Boards make independent funding decisions. Getting unanimity across the country on any such project would be almost impossible. But if anyone can help form a consensus in the health community, it is Minister Cunliffe. The only question then is whether or not he will get the opportunity to do so after the election result.
It has been a busy week, with many hours logged slaving over a hot laptop. One of the first tasks was to set up our office server with a suite of nifty collaborative tools – essential because some of the team are offshore based. We also checked in with our very helpful accountant friends at Openside CA, we plugged away at the business plan, protected our trademark and completed the incorporation process. By the way, my co-founders assure me that despite the slightly clunky interface, the Companies Office website is light years ahead of anything in Europe where bits of paper and numerous trips to several different offices are required. They should know what they are talking about because they write application interface logic in their sleep. But more about that later…