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Sponsored data to reduce digital divide

Monday, 27 July 2020  
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Return to home page editor Rebecca McBeth


The government hopes a new sponsored data partnership with telecommunications companies will help reduce the digital divide by ensuring people without data on their smartphones can still access health information and services online.
Under the new deal, the Ministry of Health will pay for all mobile data charges for 11 key health websites and two GP patient portals until June 2021, with $424,000 earmarked to cover the cost.

The partnership with Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees covers patient portals ManageMyHealth and health365 as well as Covid-19 and health information websites such as Health Navigator and mental health support services like The Lowdown. The number of sponsored websites will increase over time.

The aim of the partnership is to help improve digital inclusion as data charges can be a barrier to people accessing digital health services and these people are often those with the highest health needs.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says that during lockdown, health providers quickly moved services online and this digital communication channel is likely to remain popular, especially for young people and those who live remotely.

“However, the Ministry of Health has received clear feedback from health providers around the country that the cost of mobile data can be a barrier to people accessing key health and wellbeing information or services,” he says.

“The Sponsored Data partnership will increase the number of Kiwis who can access virtual health services easily instead of visiting the doctor or nurse in person.”

Health Consumer Advisory Service NZ coordinator Gary Sutcliffe says lack of data, minutes or texts on a mobile phone is a real problem for some people, which can be hard to imagine as many consumers take these things for granted.

“I think this is a really good initiative by the Ministry as there are major issues around inequity and this is quite a good move towards helping that,” he tells

Sutcliffe would like to see more online mental health services covered by sponsored data, such as the Mentemia Mental Wellbeing App. He suggested using current channels such as GP surgeries to make consumers aware of the initiative.

Spark chief executive Jolie Hodson says free online access to reliable health information has never been more important and this is especially true for vulnerable New Zealanders.

A sponsored data pilot has been running over the past year in partnership with WellSouth and the Health Promotion Agency.  

A project review of the pilot showed that a large number of people with no data accessed the three Health Promotion websites, and there was “significant access by new users”. 

No figures were provided for the patient portal access, however GPs reported that the project had a positive impact, particularly for low income patients. A planned consumer survey was not carried out due to cost.

Technical lessons were also learned around ensuring websites and infrastructure are optimised for sponsored data as it does not cover any externally hosted content such as YouTube videos, which is now signposted if a user clicks on one to ensure they know they will pay for that data.

The websites covered by Sponsored Data are: 

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


Read more news:

Bridging the digital divide

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