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Auckland – What a difference a week makes in the current coronavirus world, NZ Health IT (NZHIT) chief executive Scott Arrol says.

The key boost for tech health was contained in the government’s economic package last week with a $20 million for telehealth to support the scaling up of the capacity for general practice and community health providers to use technology to conduct consultations online, he says.

“This triggered a week of immense activity across the sector with, among a number of initiatives, was the news that GPs across the country are rapidly moving to conduct most of their consultations online using virtual technology including phone, email and video consults.

“This is signalling one of the biggest shifts we’ve seen in New Zealand’s primary healthcare sector in the way services are provided. I really applaud the way in which everyone in the sector has taken up this challenge.

“This is almost a zero to hundred mile an hour shift within the week following a number of years of advocating for the use of virtual healthcare.

“While the very fight against COVID-19 has created the burning platform needed to bring virtual healthcare to the fore, this move will bring about a whole new way of care delivery for New Zealanders that will last long past the current pandemic emergency situation.

“By its very nature, virtual healthcare intrinsically links healthcare, technology and people. It can’t be done without all three gelling together and these have to be supported by the appropriate funding and business models.

“So, then we have a situation that will take pressure away from the general practice’s waiting rooms and safely provide online triaging and face-to-face consultations albeit via a mobile device, laptop or computer monitor.”

Countries that had previously been hit hard by the SARS virus, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Canada, had learnt a valuable lesson from that experience by advancing the use of virtual healthcare in the ensuing years.

Medical professionals and their patients are already used to receiving healthcare in this way with this paying dividends in the present environment, Arrol says.

“New Zealand hasn’t been an early adopter, but the good thing is that the technologies required are already in place to support GPs to make this rapid shift in delivery.

“Existing patient management and portal systems have been in use for some time and the providers of these have ramped up their services to general practice to make sure they receive the support they need.

“The time for reinventing the wheel will come but, right now, primary care needs stable platforms that are reliable, secure and already linked to messaging processes, lab results, prescribing pathways and, most importantly, the patient’s existing records.

“There’s actually a danger of general practices being swamped with too much new, shiny tech when the majority of GPs already have what they need at their fingertips.  There has already been a proliferation of existing and new app-based products pushed out to the market.

“We’re very fortunate to have a strong digital health sector in New Zealand with highly capable and innovative providers of software solutions that will enable the delivery of virtual healthcare in the coming days and weeks.

“It’s going to be fascinating to see how this all rolls out and NZHIT will be offering all it can do to help and support the public health service system.”

For further information contact Make Lemonade NZ news director Kip Brook on 027 030188