The New Zealand Health IT Cluster is a collaborative industry grouping of healthcare software developers, consultants, government agencies, and healthcare providers. Faced with the challenges of rising demands on healthcare resources, fragmented health information collection and exchange, and the need to empower patients to take control of their health, the Health IT Cluster looked to information technology to mitigate these complexities. In September 2007, the Health IT Cluster partnered with Microsoft New Zealand to develop an innovative online health portal that empowers people to manage their health in an online environment and enables connected healthcare information systems to exchange data smoothly. The Consumer Health Portal (CHP) was built on a Microsoft platform, with the objective of bringing significant benefits to the healthcare sector, through reduced medical expenditure.
The New Zealand Health IT Cluster is an alliance of New Zealand-based organizations interested in health IT. Undertaking advanced technical research for the healthcare sector, the New Zealand Health IT Cluster provides integrated health information solutions to healthcare customers worldwide. Based in Wellington, the Health IT Cluster aims to position New Zealand as a world leader in the supply and use of innovative health technology
||I think it is safe to say that a new day in the use of technology in the healthcare sector has finally arrived.
||Andrea Pettett, CEO, New Zealand Health IT Cluster
By 2020, New Zealand’s population is forecast to have 800,000 people over the age of 65, which will represent 24 percent of the population. Of these, 125,000 will be 85 or older, and this aging population trend is consistent with other developed nations. Consequently, healthcare is a major concern for the New Zealand government, with a large portion of its health budget spent on care for long term or chronic conditions. Current New Zealand health spending is approximately eight percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is projected to increase every year.
The healthcare industry is highly dependent on the timely exchange of sensitive data and patient information. Healthcare providers require up-to-date medical history, test results, and other pertinent health information to provide quality care to patients. There are a multitude of public and private healthcare information systems in New Zealand, varying from paper-based to modern information management tools. This wide-ranging and disparate network makes it difficult for healthcare providers and patients to access and exchange key health information.
Patients need to be better empowered so that they can take a more active part in the management of their health. It may be difficult for patients, to keep track of appointments and medicine regimes. This leads to missed appointments and medicines taken incorrectly. Clinic appointments set up weeks in advance are sometimes missed because the patient forgot or because they needed special assistance to get to the appointment and were unable to indicate this need.
For patients who are visited by healthcare professionals in their home, their appointment schedule is set several weeks in advance. Due to emergencies or cancellations, schedules can change at short notice. Patients can be uncertain about the time and date of the visit, and can wait for long periods for the health care provider to arrive.
With the changing population profile, the evolving relationship between doctors and patients, and the increasing demand for quality healthcare services, the New Zealand Ministry of Health developed the Health Information Strategy, which emphasizes patient self-empowerment and self-management of medical conditions as a key component to successful medical care. The New Zealand Ministry of Health primary care strategy has five key strategy elements: Support for self-care; support for tailored care; identifying and responding to population health needs; enabling the co-ordination of care and integration of services; and improving performance and evidence-based decisions.
Needing to link information seamlessly and empower New Zealanders to engage in self-care behavior, the Health IT Cluster wanted a flexible and robust system to distill and integrate health information from multiple sources, and provide New Zealanders the necessary tools and devices to effectively manage their health.
The Health IT Cluster partnered with the Ministry of Health, ProCare Health, Enigma, Medtech, Healthpoint, Foundation for Research Science and Technology, Simpl, Telemessenger, and Microsoft® New Zealand to develop a proof of concept Consumer Health Portal in September 2007. The CHP was developed to support the government’s strategic healthcare goals and to empower patients to proactively manage their health.
The CHP is powered by the Health Connection Engine (HCE), a service-oriented healthcare integration solution implemented on top of the Microsoft platform. HCE utilizes core Microsoft technologies, such as the Microsoft® .NET Framework, Microsoft® BizTalk® 2006 Server and Microsoft® SQL Server® 2005, to provide a set of installable modules to support the rapid implementation of an integration solution.
With widely disparate healthcare systems around the country creating and processing healthcare information, specialized adapters are used to bridge the different systems and the HCE. The adapters enable connected systems to send and receive messages through the network, ensuring information flows fluidly between healthcare providers. Kevin Ackhurst, Managing Director, Microsoft New Zealand explains, “Microsoft New Zealand is trying to ensure that we connect the pharmacies, the hospitals, the imaging labs and all the other components so that they operate as efficiently as the banking system.”
The portal is securely connected to a suite of tools, services and information sources that users require for effective self-care. Patients can access the CHP to gather information on their medical conditions and treatments. The portal allows health programs such as fitness and smoking cessation to be adopted, and healthcare providers can use the portal to monitor the patients’ compliance to their healthcare plans. Patients are able to feedback on how they are progressing and if they are experiencing any difficulties with treatments. The patient can allow family and friends access to their individual healthcare information such as medical conditions and diagnosis, care-plan details and scheduled medical appointments. " I think it is safe to say that a new day in the use of technology in the healthcare sector has finally arrived,” says Andrea Pettett, CEO, New Zealand Health IT Cluster.
Paul Roseman, Design and Development Manager of ProCare, an organization representing general practitioners and nurses in Auckland, comments, “Consumer Health Portal is one of the ways that we can interact with patients and put them in control. The tools, services, and health information made available through the portal can help them change their lives and achieve their health goals.”
The CHP has challenged the New Zealand healthcare industry into thinking about healthcare delivery models. With its empowering tools and services, New Zealanders who use the portal will be better able to self manage their condition and benefit from reduced medical expenditure, better quality of care, increased access to information, and improved collaboration between their healthcare providers.
The CHP is designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system by enabling consumers to take on a greater role in managing their personal healthcare – both when they are ill and through preventive treatment. Cost savings are anticipated to be recognized in numerous ways ranging from reducing costly unplanned admissions to hospitals and unnecessary general practitioner visits, to the longer term benefits associated with patients who follow their prescribed treatment to completion and are in better control of their long term conditions.
Better Patient Care
Better patient care can be achieved through managed self-care. With the aid of the CHP, patients can live more independently, have greater choice in their treatment, and be empowered to take control of their long term conditions through properly supported self care. Healthcare providers can also take early preventive action by monitoring patients with the aid of the portal.
Increased access to information
The CHP makes it easy for patients to access timely information on their medical condition and treatments. The knowledge gained from the portal places patients in control of their health, enabling them to engage in informed consultations with their physicians, as well as comply with prescribed treatment plans. Andrea Pettett, CEO, New Zealand Health IT Cluster, confirms, “The CHP provides patients with access to their own electronic health records, providing them with information to make it easy to get the help needed to effectively and efficiently manage their health.”
Adopting health programs through the CHP, such as a daily fitness program, means patients can take positive steps towards improving their overall wellbeing. “Being able to see the progress that you’ve made, and knowing that you’re in control and you’re responsible for that is very empowering for patients. It provides a real sense of achievement that gives them the impetus to carry on and make the next change,” says Roseman.
The Consumer Health Portal provides a centralized information repository that supports collaboration between healthcare system providers. Hospitals, physicians, laboratories and other institutions can now exchange information easily, with health information systems and data being connected into one integrated platform. “Combined with and surrounded by Microsoft’s world-class communication and collaboration tools and other resources, I think it is safe to say that a new day in the use of technology in the healthcare sector has truly arrived,” says Pettett.
The partnership between the Health IT Cluster and Microsoft to build out the Consumer Health Portal will enhance healthcare in New Zealand. Dr Andrew Holmes, Manager of Medical Services Strategy, Ministry of Health, confirms, “This public/private partnership is proving exemplary. Well done.”
For More Information
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Document published December 2008