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Data and digital key to coronavirus response

Wednesday, 11 March 2020  
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Return to home page editor Rebecca McBeth


The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to rapidly deploy digital and data solutions into the health sector, experts say.


Digital technologies can be used to monitor and treat people at home, allow medical staff to work remotely and slow the spread of the virus.


A number of Kiwi health IT providers have already developed solutions to help health providers deal with the crisis.


Orion Health has developed a ‘comprehensive pandemic outbreak monitoring platform’, which will be offered free to existing and future customers.


The software enables health providers to “remotely monitor and engage patients in their homes, facilitating communication between quarantined people and the healthcare service, as well as maintaining visibility of those recently discharged,” an Orion Health statement says.


Secure messaging app Celo has also responded to the outbreak by developing a new tool called Celo Broadcast available to all existing and future customers at no cost. 

Using smartphones with Celo’s app, organisations can send targeted, and closed loop communication to their staff for critical updates, either to an entire organisation or tailored-messages to specific teams. 


ManageMyHealth chief architect Sanjeewa Samaraweera says ManageMyHealth is introducing a pre-screening tool on the patient portal where everyone is asked four questions before being allowed to book online or via mobile apps.


Some patients are allowed to book while others are advised to call the health centre, self-isolate or contact the coronavirus health line. 


Chair of the National Telehealth Leadership Group Ruth Large says use of telehealth is an important part of the response to the novel coronavirus.


“If we can prevent people coming and sitting in waiting rooms where they are at risk of catching the virus, that could really make a difference,” she says.


“Virtual care can also help those ‘at risk’ in care facilities or in quarantine.”


Director-General of health Ashley Bloomfield said at a media standup on March 11 that GPs were already thinking about using technology much more to do consultations, giving the examples of phone calls or Skype.


"This is a really good idea and a good way of keeping in touch with people in self-isolation," he said.


Royal NZ College of GPs president Samantha Murton says many general practices here already have the ability to conduct telehealth appointments via their patient portals and could start offering them reasonably quickly.


Triaging patients can also be done over the phone. 


With New Zealand already suffering from a GP shortage, keeping medical staff healthy is a key concern, Murton says.


“If an outcome of this is that virtual consultations become much more common no one would mind, but it needs to work well and still keep people safe,” she says.


Shayne Hunter, deputy director-general, data and digital says: "many general practices are already using telehealth, which is good for the system and for patients.


"There is provision for these service to be increased in the current situation, and we're working to see how we can help make this easier or more effective for patients and general practice."


Island Bay Medical Centre GP Richard Medlicott says his practice has offered video appointments via ManageMyHealth for some time without high uptake from patients, but he expects demand to increase if the new coronavirus spreads widely in New Zealand.


While telephone consultations are also used, being able to see a person to check for symptoms and appearance in the case of this virus is useful, he says.


NZ Health IT chief executive Scott Arrol says, "the government must give urgency to changes to funding models and incentives that will enable GPs to offer virtual healthcare services to patients at little or no cost, whilst also support existing or new service offerings to be available that are outside of the traditional doctor's clinic model."


He says the current situation highlights the need for this to be given high priority, not only for pandemics, but as a routine way to provide healthcare services to the population. 


Read more on this topic in Features.


If you would like to provide feedback on this news story, please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.


This article was updated on 17 March 2019.


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