A health screening system making use of digital technology and developed by former Kaitaia GP Lance O'Sullivan aims to bring healthcare to more Northland kids more quickly.
Maori health provider Te Hau Ora o Ngapuhi is using Dr O'Sullivan's iMoko app at eight schools and early childhood centres in the Kaikohe area with a combined roll of more than 1700 children.
The app's latest rollout was launched at Tautoro School, about 10km south of Kaikohe.
Dr O'Sullivan said the idea was to use the kind of technology kids used every day and have the assessments carried out by someone from their own community.
''If the person doing the assessment looks like them, and sounds like them, that will result in better health outcomes for children ... and if we can make them healthier, they'll be easier to teach,'' he said.
Te Hau Ora o Ngapuhi general manager Te Ropu Pou said a trained kaimahi (worker) would visit each of the eight schools three times a week to assess children identified by teachers as having a cough, sore throat, skin sores, head lice or other common afflictions.
The kaimahi would enter the details on to a tablet, then upload them to the cloud for checking by an iMoko nurse. The nurse would decide what treatment was needed and send the findings to the doctor's phone. If the doctor agreed a prescription could be sent to the nearest pharmacy.
The whole process could be completed in just over 12 minutes, Ms Pou said.
''We believe children deserve immediate access to health care. Our current health system doesn't allow for this kind of response, though we know early intervention works better and reduces hospital admissions.''
If families wanted to take their child to a GP they sometimes had to wait days for an appointment, while some rural families only travelled into town once a week.
The intention was to train school staff as kaimahi so children's healthcare was placed in the hands of people who knew them best.
iMoko started as a throat-swabbing programme to combat potentially deadly rheumatic fever but it now covered a range of conditions which were prevalent in Northland, Ms Pou said.
As part of the launch Dr O'Sullivan gave the children a taste of the future by introducing them to Dr iRopata, a virtual doctor who used artificial intelligence and a range of tools such as a bluetooth thermometer and a digital stethoscope to carry out basic medical checks. Dr iRopata not only looked Maori, she also used Maori greetings.
Dr O'Sullivan said it was his dream that Northland children could go to the doctor and be treated by someone ''who looks like them and sounds like them''.