Standard ‘rail gauge’ mooted for health IT

New Zealand should standardise its health-sector digital communications nationwide in the same way it has its rail gauge and banking IT, says Gary Cohen, executive chairman of Sydney-based health IT vendor IBA Technologies.

New Zealand should standardise its health-sector digital communications nationwide in the same way it has its rail gauge and banking IT, says Gary Cohen, executive chairman of Sydney-based health IT vendor IBA Technologies.

The Ministry of Health is entertaining its own thoughts in this direction.

This doesn’t mean all hospital and health providers should adopt similar software, Cohen says, but a uniform interface, so providers in different parts of the country can at least exchange information.

“Central government should establish a strategy for health IT and tell the providers ‘these are the standards for communications and data formats and this is the benchmark; this is what we expect you all to be providing within three to five years’.”

A standard network already exists in some information areas in the form of the NZ Health Intranet. But it is left to hospitals and other providers whether they join, and progress in persuading them to avail themselves of direct access to its common databases has been slow.

Cohen visited New Zealand last week to talk with government representatives — though he declines to say exactly who he met — and to help along the IBA’s bid for the Auckland Healthcare clinicals project (see Auckland Healthcare contract reaches last round).

Rival Cerner also sent in senior executives from head office.

Cohen is banking on IBA’s Australian base as a point of its appeal for the Auckland contract and a broader presence in the New Zealand health sector generally. The company already supplies IT to seven of the 21 New Zealand health districts. Its showpiece is the Taranaki district, centred on Taranaki Base Hospital (see Hospital puts patient info online).

The Australian and New Zealand health systems should both adopt a British model, he suggests, with the emphasis on public hospitals and a “patient-centric” view.

This and geographical closeness, he says, puts an Australian firm in a better position than US companies to compete for a New Zealand contract, like the current Auckland Healthcare clinicals project.

IBA has made a submission to the Government’s Health Information Management and Technology Plan, which is apparently considering how to encourage more “centralisation” among health IT systems.

The plan, and the health strategy that preceded it, is strong on the networking capability too.

“The ability to exchange high quality information between partners in health care processes will be vital for a health system focused on achieving better health outcomes,” the strategy document says.

Wave stands for “Working to Add Value through E-information”. Details are available here.

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