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Interoperability a key enabler in new Digital Health Strategy

Monday, 18 June 2018  
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Picture: Peter Marks explains why health digital technology is important at the HL7 New Zealand mid-year seminar.


eHealthNews editor Rebecca McBeth


Interoperability and architecture and standards are key enablers in the new Digital Health Strategy, a Ministry of Health manager says.


Ministry of Health manager architecture and standards, technology and digital services Peter Marks spoke at the HL7 New Zealand mid-year seminar Interoperability in Action in Auckland today.


He said technology is required to build the sustainable future that the New Zealand Health Strategy calls for and that the Digital Health Strategy, which is still in draft form, aims to ensure the right levers, standards, technologies and investment are in place to deliver that.


Marks said the New Zealand health system is incredibly fragmented and the Digital Health Strategy provides a common view and purpose, so the sector as a whole can move up the digital maturity curve.


While the Digital Health Strategy will articulate the objectives and how to measure progress, individual organisations will make their own decisions on how to get there based on their differing starting points, investment cycles and needs, he said.


The strategy is made up of four elements: capabilities, enablers, digital environment and principles.


The enablers highlight the importance of architecture and standards, interoperability and privacy as the cornerstones upon which the digital health eco-system is built, Marks told attendees.


He said the Ministry will take responsibility for creating the enablers, with help from others.

Cross-sector working groups have already started looking at updating core standards around interoperability and collaborating on digital identity standards.


The Ministry is also working to extend the capabilities of the Health Provider Index and National Health Index.


Marks said the Digital Health Strategy does not explicitly answer the question, “what type of interoperability do we need?”, but says we must be able to make meaningful use of the numerous “islands of information” that exist in health.


Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources and Snomed CT clinical health terminology are essential standards to allow the exchange of data without losing its meaning.


“We need semantic interoperability, not organisational interoperability,” he explained.


“We need to focus on Snomed CT getting adopted and on FHIR to expose that data so that consumers and clinicians can get access whenever, wherever and however they need it.”


The Health Information Standards Organisation (HISO) is working to develop and update standards, but the important thing is that they are collectively adopted, he added.


SNOMED International APAC clinical engagement lead Michael Bainbridge also spoke at the event. He said health systems are under increasing pressure to deliver more services with fewer resources and “the only way to do that is to digitise things”.


The key is to move more people out of expensive hospital care and into community-based or home care, while supporting more self-care and prevention. Key to that transformation is the ability to share information.


He said the Faculty of Clinical Informatics is being established as a professional membership body for all clinical informaticians in the UK and he wants to help Australasia bring these competencies into the workforce.


“Unless we do that, it’s people with an interest in computing who have been driving this clinical point of view and not having the back-up or authority to do this as a professional,” he told attendees.


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