NZTE challenge to drive health innovation

Electronic health records could drive a wave of health innovation, says US chief innovation officer

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is aiming to drive innovation — and exports — of health products including software through an innovation challenge.

NZTE’s IT sector director, Hans Frauenlob, says health has been an area of focus for the agency for some time. The challenge is aimed at stimulating innovation and product development in both ICT and in the medical devices area.

Innovation in health generally comes from clinicians solving problems they face in their work, he says.

“Business planning and innovation competitions provide a good way to flesh out good ideas,” he says. “Early market feedback is critical — at the point when the concept is being turned into a product.

“Focus on Health — A New Zealand Innovation Challenge” is particularly aimed at helping local innovators access the huge US health market. It offers innovators the opportunity to receive in-depth business development mentoring and advice, and to present their ideas to potential partners, investors, buyers and customers.

The billions being poured into health transformation by the Obama administration only make the opportunity more attractive, Frauenlob says. He adds that the US and North America is already intrigued by the New Zealand approach to health, mainly due to the high use of electronic health records and unique patient identifiers here.

One of the judges for the challenge, chief innovation officer at Pittsburgh-based UPMC Health Plan, Jay Srini, was in Auckland last week. Srini says the issues being faced in New Zealand and in the US, such as aging populations and treating chronic disease, are the same and partnering improves outcomes for the world at large.

Srini says in software, worldwide efforts to develop and roll out electronic health records could be a tipping point ushering in further software-based manipulation of health data.

“It sets the stage for the next wave of companies in visualisation and business intelligence,” she says. Other areas could include robotics and simulation.

One of the challenges faced will be the rationalisation of clinical vocabularies and agreed ontologies. The interface of language and computing is another area in need of development.

Frauenlob says New Zealand is an important demonstration ground for new concepts. He says developments such as the Health Management System Collaborative (See also: Health's 'burning platform') also demonstrate the similarity of issues being faced here and overseas.

“One of the tensions is the centralised versus the federated model. New Zealand is no different”.

While he does not see such consolidation projects as a threat to local health innovation, he is keen to protect an environment that is receptive to developing IP and partnering and proving technology.

“Having a system that is receptive to the introduction of new ideas and technologies is pretty critical,” he says. Participants in Focus on Health are invited to submit their innovation ideas in a one page business plan by 31 August.

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