A move to create a paperless nationwide system for managing health records could lay the foundations for a booming health technology sector, says the head of a local software firm.

Orion Health chief executive Ian McCrae said reforms considered for the delivery of health services, in particular the rationalisation of district health boards, may not only deliver health benefits but also boost the health technology sector.

"We have a chance of being a hotbed of health innovation," said McCrae. "It's something we should actually take advantage of because there are some things we can't do. We can't build cars, we can't build spaceships, there's lots we can't do. But this is one thing we can absolutely be world class at."

A review of the health system conducted last year by former managing director of ANZ Bank in New Zealand and secretary to the Treasury Murray Horn said health professionals would find it much easier to provide seamless care if they shared easy access to a common patient record.

The report recommended the implementation of a "safe, shared and transferable" patient electronic health record, as well as a portal for patients to check their health information.

Electronic health records (EHR) mean a patient's GP and specialist visits, prescriptions, blood tests and hospital treatments are collected and accessible in one system.

"We have automated clinical records within hospitals in New Zealand. The next step now is to do it at a regional or national level," said McCrae.

He said the prevalence of IT systems in New Zealand healthcare - 98 per cent of New Zealand GPs keep patient notes electronically compared with around 20 per cent in the United States - would make integrating health records much easier.

"The Horn report is exactly on the right track because having 20 or so IT operations, many of them struggling for resources and unable to do new things, is just not the right way to run health in this country," said McCrae.

He said Norway, a country with a similar population to New Zealand, had gone from a "huge" number of different hospital organisations down to one or two.

Orion Health's New Zealand sales director Wayne Oxenham said the company's electronic health records software products are in use at 18 of the 20 district health boards.

"We look at New Zealand as a place where we can innovate because all our developers are here. It's far easier for us to do new things locally here in New Zealand than it is to do new things in, say, Spain," Oxenham said.

Orion Health is implementing an electronic health records system to assist in the management of patients with issues such as mental health, alcoholism, diabetes and asthma on Spain's Balearic Islands.

Oxenham said it was innovation and development the company would love to be doing in New Zealand.

Orion Health - New Zealand's largest locally owned software exporter - derives about 90 per cent of its around $60 million in annual revenue from overseas deals. It aims to have an annual turnover of $1 billion by 2016.


* Orion Health is NZ's largest locally-owned software exporter.
* It earns about 90 per cent of its around $60 million in annual revenue from overseas deals.
* It aims to have annual turnover of $1 billion by 2016.