The appointment of a second IT heavy-hitter could improve the chances of the government’s five-year action plan to boost health outcomes through better use of information technology.
As Computerworld reported a fortnight ago, former Waitemata Health information chief Ray Delany has become group manager of the New Zealand Health Information Services. He has since been joined by Mike Rillstone, in the newly created NZHIS post of health information chief adviser.
The NZHIS, a group within the Ministry of Health, looks after national health data such as the National Health Index.
Rillstone previously worked in Sydney for consultants Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and, before that, at South Auckland Health and the Health Funding Authority.
Delany says Rillstone’s role will involve being at the forefront of the action plan but he would be working closely with Rillstone on the implementation. The pair are presently “finding and thinking” before deciding how things should be organised. “Things are going to start to move. But exactly what and in what order is not clear to me or to anybody else.”
Last October a working party of top health officials, chaired by ex-Labour man David Caygill, produced the WAVE report, “Working to add value to e-information”. It followed other earlier policy documents, including the 1996 “Health information strategy for the year 2000”.
Delany says over the ensuing six years IT has leapt ahead with the exponential growth of the web, networked organisations, email and the development of electronic health records. These changes require an updated strategy.
“New Zealand is recognised as a world leader in the area but there is still a lot of potential to use health information to improve health outcomes. The issue is [that] we need to integrate much more with the health sector rather than have the ministry making the decisions,” he says.
The WAVE report includes 70 recommendations that were narrowed down to 10 priorities. These included launching a health portal and tidying up and improving a range of government information collection and analysis systems.
“As health information is by its nature sensitive and complex, particular care needs to be taken in handling and storing it,” says Delany. “This applies equally to electronic health records and online knowledge databases. The information contributed to each is critical to patients’ health and often lives.”
The Ministry of Health is planning to implement much of the first components of two national information systems — the National Provider Index and National Health Index — this year.
“Many of the recommendations are not necessarily about new purchases or systems. It is about changing practice, improving integration, integrity, quality and the sharing of health information,” Delany says.
No extra cash has been awarded to the action plan, with recommendations being worked on under existing budgets.
Some 120 people from across the health and disability sector have worked on the project to date, including district health boards, Ministry of Health agencies, ACC, government departments and the private sector.