Standards health’s ‘pressing need’

New Zealand is at a turning point regarding health data processing and communication, says Health Ministry IS and IT chief adviser Mike Rillstone.

New Zealand is at a turning point regarding health data processing and communication, says Health Ministry IS and IT chief adviser Mike Rillstone.

Rillstone, who delivered the opening address at last week's Health Informatics NZ conference, notes that four key bodies in health IT - HPAC (formerly Health Benefits), NZHIS (the NZ Health Information Service), IMAT (the health ministry's information arm) and his own efforts -- were working together in a way that was producing policy driven by good information.

He cites impressive figures as evidence of New Zealand's advancement in the health IT sector. "Seventy percent of lab results are sent back from the lab to GPs electronically, 80% of GPs use practice management software and 50% use software for clinical purposes-- that is, generating electronic prescriptions and recording data from patient visits."

The greatest need, however, is for standardisation of data collection, use and storage across the sector and moves towards it can be seen in a recent move by the health ministry and ACC to collaborate on their IT management.

"ACC and the ministry agree that the impact of decisions by ACC and the ministry come to a focus at the GP's desk and to have different standards is an inhibitor."

Last year's Wave (Working to Add Value through E-information) report identified "some gaps in good governance" of health IT, Rillstone says. A development that seeks to address this is the establishment of HISO, the health information standards organisation.

While last month's election held up progress on that project, things are now rolling along, Rillstone says. Work on the project has identified that we need a health practitioner index, ethnicity data and a primary care database, among other measures, he says.

Without national standards, work on these will be wasted, he says "and standards need to be agreed in areas such as data management and storage, clinical coding, security and connectivity".

Networking is another area that needs to be addressed, he says. "We need better connectivity in the sector and accreditation of health networks and overall, we need to do a lot of work on standards."

It's no good achieving great results at just one district health board or hospital, he says. "It's about having it across the country, consistently -- it's about taking a pocket of excellence and driving it out across the country."

At the opening session NZHIS group manager Ray Delany gave an update on the Wave project. Areas being addressed include duplicate and outdated National Health Index numbers, a health practitioner index and a national immunisation register.

The register has been taken to proof-of-concept, a software package (Kidslink) selected, trials are taking place at three district health boards and the rollout is planned for early next year, Delany says.

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