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Could Air NZ use downtime to digitally transform NZ’s health systems?

30 Apr 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for an overhaul of funding and IT systems for the health sector and Air New Zealand could provide some answers, according to a University of Otago expert in healthcare systems.

University of Otago Centre for Health Systems and Technology co-director Professor Robin Gauld says the national airline’s expertise in developing a world-leading app for air travel services could be put to good use in the health sector, where Covid-19 accentuates the need for better technology systems.

Covid-19 has seen an immediate shift to online and phone consultations in general practices with few patients seen in-person. However, there are insufficient IT systems to support the move, he says.

“Information systems are in a sorry state. There are multiple, parallel legacy systems, a lack of system architecture (liken this to building a house with no designer or multiple competing designers) and inability to easily share data across the country or between different services.

“Patients mostly have limited ability to understand and navigate the health system using technology and Covid-19 has revealed the urgent need to rectify the situation.”

Professor Gauld recommends using Air New Zealand’s assistance in building an appropriate national information system for the health system.

“Air New Zealand has led the world with its app, aimed at linking services and schedules, with information available to passengers and Air New Zealand in real-time.

“This unfortunate downtime for the airline provides an opportunity to procure the assistance of their IT, logistics and scheduling teams for the health sector. While they would likely be aghast at what they find, with will and backing, they could bring to health what they have achieved with air travel.”

Professor Gauld, who is also Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Otago Business School, also suggests now is the time to move towards a salaried system for at least some of the country’s GPs, most of whom are self-employed.

“The new way of working is a belated step in the right direction. Many consultations do not need to be in-person; it is very convenient for many patients (no travel time or sitting around the waiting room); and it means GP services can be provided from anywhere into areas previously not possible.

“The shift however, has precipitated a drastic income drop for many GPs with fewer patients being billed, raising questions about sustainability of the traditional model,” he says.

“It is time for the Government to now consider full capitation for GPs.”

Recognising that not all GPs would want to operate under this system, Professor Gauld suggests it could be carried out on an opt-in basis.

“An addition of 5 to 10 per cent to the health budget would fully capitate a good proportion of GPs, taking away patient charges and giving capacity to consult with patients using whichever channel is appropriate.”

Services provided by hospital specialists, all of whom are salaried and many of whom are now working remotely, could be directly linked and coordinated with GPs via the technology and logistics work Air New Zealand could undertake, Professor Gauld says.