An academic says the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the need for an overhaul of IT systems for the health sector.
That take is nothing new, but he has a novel way to fix it: bring in experts from Air New Zealand.
Professor Robin Gauld, who heads Otago University's Centre for Health Systems and Technology and is dean of the Otago Business School, says 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.
"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," Gauld says.
"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."
He sees our national carrier's well-regarded tech team as the white knight - and one that's now got time and resources on its hands as much of its usual business dries up.
"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," Gauld says.
"This unfortunate downtime for the airline provides an opportunity to procure 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."
The Herald put the professor's plan to both Air New Zealand and the Ministry of Health.
Air New Zealand chief digital officer Jennifer Sepull was rather upbeat.
"I'd like to thank Professor Robin Gauld for his praise for our popular mobile app. Air New Zealand is willing to help," she said, although she did qualify that "there needs to be a New Zealand solution, rather than a company by company solution."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the ministry was open to talking to Air NZ, and noted that the two already co-operate on contact tracing systems.
"We haven't approached Air NZ about our digital approach [but] we have talked to other private and public sector organisations to support or inform our approach and are open to talking to Air NZ."
But the spokesperson also poured a bit of cold water on the idea by adding "The key difference between the health system and Air NZ, is that Air NZ is a single organisation and the health system is an ecosystem, so our approach is necessarily different. The Ministry needs to work with other players in the health ecosystem ... We already have partners engaged that are experienced in the development of our digital capability."
They added, "The Ministry of Health is developing a Digital Health Strategic Framework to guide the use of digital technologies and data to support a strong and equitable public health and disability system." (The broad-strokes, deadline-free strategy is online here.)
Beyond ageing IT, the health systems has also suffered from different DHBs adopting different strategies in some areas. Home-grown patient record management software by Orion Health found favour in the south but not the north, for example, while the Waikato DHB wasted $26m virtual healthcare flop.