Most university students and young professionals move flats every year. It means letting grandma, who stills sends a card each birthday, know the new address. But who can be bothered letting the bank, IRD, electoral commission, or GP clinic know?
Nearly all data is online now and people who move frequently are unlikely to have seen the same GP more than once anyway. For this group of people, it means personal medical records are unlikely to move with them and the records are likely to be lost in the system or out of date.
Now imagine one of these people is offered a better job in a new city. It's a fresh start with new cafes to try and neighbourhood dogs to pat. Importantly, they're excited about being recognised for their work. Moving is always logistically hard, but if they were receiving treatment for depression, it'd be much harder to make a smooth transition.
Mental health records are kept by district health boards, which means the new DHB won't necessarily have a record of their previous treatment, prescriptions, and care.
Imagine also a dairy farmer in Northland. He's hardy but starts to feel something's not quite right. It might be the heart. He should pay the doctor a visit, but he doesn't risk drowsily getting behind the wheel on the rural roads. They're notorious for catching drivers out at the best of times. It would be easier for him to call a doctor, and it would be even better if he had access to his own medical records to help assist them over the phone.
All of these people have different health needs, but what they have in common is a lack of easy access to their health records.
Health records are something we don't think about until we really need them. Most people wouldn't be able to recall the last time they went to the doctor, what was prescribed, or even when their last vaccination was and what for.
But we'd assume it wouldn't be too hard to find out.
The issue is that New Zealanders don't have one system or record of our personal health information. It's this basic infrastructure that seems like a nice to have in the good times, but becomes extremely useful in the bad times, like in a global pandemic.
If we had the health infrastructure right, we'd be in a different place for a Covid vaccination strategy.
Take Israel for example, it has rolled out the most effective Covid vaccination programme in the world. Over 10 million doses have been given to citizens. Israel's culture of innovation and use of technology has been touted as the reason for the success.
Digitalisation underpins their whole health care system.
Once citizens have had both shots of vaccine, scheduled by text, they're given a unique QR code which when scanned gains them entry to gyms, restaurants, and bars. In contrast, we've managed around 70,000 doses and still sent public health advice in letter form to the KFC worker asking her to self-isolate.
The Covid crisis has provided an opportunity for reassessing New Zealand's health systems. It's clear there are gaps and we need to invest in more effective public health infrastructure.
What we need is to digitise and adopt a fully integrated IT system across the whole public healthcare system. We need patient records that are readable, transferable across the country, and accessible not only for healthcare professionals but also for patients.
Instead, we have 20 district health boards with their own ICT platforms for patient data and management. Individual patient notes are spread throughout GP clinics, hospitals, dental clinics, fertility specialists, and childhood immunisations are found in a separate Government register.
We need to think for the future. As shopping, socialising, educating and even banking have moved online, people expect readily available access to information, but healthcare has lagged behind.
Going digital and being able to book appointments, see test results, and see historical records would make health care more efficient and tailored to individual need.
People have every right to wonder why the patient record system is so fragmented and decrepit. The shortest answer is that it is very difficult to build any Government database.
But worse, too many industry players protect their patch, refusing to co-operate. That's unforgivable.
The Government spends $18 billion dollars of taxpayer money each year. It should set a time frame to create a system and make it clear that any healthcare provider who wants taxpayer funding must use the database. No data, no dollars, because for $18 billion a year, New Zealanders deserve to own their data.
• Brooke van Velden, MP, is the deputy leader of the Act Party.