What happens on tour stays on tour? Not in my case.

These past two weeks on the West Coast of the United States have been an eye opener and what I've seen and learnt must be shared.

Travelling with a 20-strong delegation from New Zealand, we specifically looked at how research, technology and innovation is changing the way health and social services are delivered and funded.

Once more I have found Americans more than generous in sharing their ideas. They are also very generous with their time in demonstrating how technology is making their businesses more sustainable.


The use of latest technology was one of the main reasons for the visit.

As a Lakes councillor, health board member and chairwoman of the Whanau Ora North Island Commissioning Agency, I observed and studied many things that could be applied to one or all of these businesses. The learnings and insights were too many to detail in one opinion piece, but the highlights of the trip were, in no particular order:

• A visit to Quid Inc in San Francisco. It is a company owned by Sean Gourley, an expat from Christchurch. His sophisticated software collects "big data" on any subject from around the world. That is compiled and mapped all within real time. You can cut and slice the information, do a deep dive too, to get exactly the information you need. Sean is about six months out from launching his next product.

• If you want to ensure your project gets the attention it warrants move it into the office of the mayor. That's where affordable housing now sits in San Francisco. San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to live in America. The mayor is moving fast to transform and revitalise public housing. He is bringing together public and private partners to make this happen. It is one of his top priorities and by having housing sit within his office it gets the required attention and urgency.

• Seattle has not changed, and is still one of my favourite cities in the US. I had forgotten why I liked it so much. It's the trees.

Trees still grow within the city. They are everywhere and take away that stark look that goes with concrete, bricks and mortar. Anyone who wants to develop a property within the city must provide an open space anywhere in the city.

• My day at Microsoft headquarters was amazing. It, too, is exploring "current state" health and social technologies, and road mapping emerging trends. Fighting cybercrime is now a big part of its business. It spends millions of dollars each year developing systems to fight it. We watched as red lights appeared on the large world map screened on to the wall. Each light represented a significant cybercrime hit.

During our visit red lights were lighting up New Zealand, too. The median number of days on a victim's network before detection is 243.


By that time the damage has well and truly been done.

The executives told us cybersecurity is a CEO-level issue not the problem of the IT department. That might come as a surprise to some CEOs.

• In my capacity as chairwoman of the Whanau Ora North Island Commissioning Agency I was privileged to address the 2015 Tribal Self Governance Consultation Conference in Reno. It is possibly the biggest audience I have spoken to.

Today more than 65 per cent of the 566 federally recognised tribes are operating under Compacts of Self-Governance with the United States Government. Under self-governance tribes are delivering and improving health and social services, and co-managing natural resources.

The theme for their conference was Tribal Self-Governance: A legacy for future generations. Like New Zealand, they're on to it.

• We didn't miss Anzac Day by being out of the country. We joined Seattle-based New Zealanders, Australians and Turkish citizens in remembering those who took part in Gallipoli and other wars.

It was very poignant, made more so by being away from home.

But it was in community health care that I saw the smartest use of technology. You can access your personal health records through a patient portal. Schedule your own appointments, send and receive secure online messages, view test and lab results, request prescription repeats, receive email reminders, read your medical notes, contact your health care team and self-monitor; new ways of working that allow patients more control in planning and managing their own healthcare. Some of that is already happening in New Zealand but must become more widespread, even the norm.

Travelling with 20 people can be fun, if exhausting at times.

But it provided a great opportunity for "thought leaders" to share where they see potential for integrated services to improve co-design, co-delivery and co-investment across all social service areas; sound research, technology and innovation.

If we get the mix right and provide committed leadership positive results will follow. It's time for real impact for better family well-being.

• Merepeka lives in Rotorua. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart the spread of political correctness.