Emerging technology can bring great benefits to health practitioners and patients, but by no means is it as simple as buying hardware or software.
The Ministry of Health has recognised these challenges with the establishment of its Emerging Health Technology and Innovation (EHT) Team. EHT is designed to bring technology into the health system more quickly and with a more positive impact. The team is located withing the Ministry’s Data and Digital directorate which is responsible for understand and advising on the impacts of new technology across the health and disability system.
Eileen Duddy and Mary Crowe are two key people within the EHT Team of five. Eileen is a business partner and Mary is a technical research analyst. Their colleagues are a principal advisor who focuses on service design, and a digital equity lead who looks at digital products through a Māori lens.
Eileen looks at every innovation from different viewpoints. “It’s all about who’s doing what and where, ensuring they’re connected so that we’re all learning, preventing any duplication, and overcoming challenges around using new technology in the health system.
“Take AI, for example. It’s getting a lot of airtime, but it comes with challenges and ethical questions. And the same applies with apps, there are a lot of them in robotics, automation and virtual reality in the US.”
Mary (left) looks at the emerging technology differently. “I do techy documents for non-techy people. In other words, how is this piece of technology going to benefit the health system. It could be robotics or Internet of Things devices, Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality.”
She also spends time scanning the landscape here and internationally. “I spend a lot of time on channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn and the team Yammer page where we can share some of the really cool stories and events around health technology.”
Education is a big element of introducing emerging technology. “It’s about shifting someone’s mindset. 'Have you considered this? It could help you do that task another way.' It’s also about pushing the right information out to the right people with the right evidence and working more closely with the District Health Board innovators,” says Duddy.
Their team runs Open Mic roundtable every fortnight. This open mic session is designed for anyone in the health system or those connected with the health system through universities, vendors and government to talk about that they’re doing. It’s another way of getting information out to the right people.
There are still challenges. “Technology is often not designed for how people do their job, creating another challenge that must be overcome. Look at how intuitive the smartphone is. How do we design a health system that’s as intuitive as that phone?”
Duddy makes the point that uptake, whether from support staff or healthcare professionals, is not a given. “There’s a lot of funding for research, but it’s still the traditional clinical trial mentality versus technology driven by industry. However, they are starting to converge.”
This leads to the biggest question: how will emerging technology affect the way people work? “Ministry of Primary Industries in introducing robotics - how are they thinking about their workforce? What can we learn from them? We know, for example, that emerging technology lends itself to balancing workforce capacity, but we still don’t have enough people in the public health system pushing for its introduction.”
While some areas don’t lend themselves to innovation, Duddy says “it’ll be sad if we don’t use technology to deliver better services. There’s a big drive in the ministry around ethical access – ensuring everyone has access to the same health technology, which is a move away from the so-called postcode lottery.”
She sees the health reforms as an opportunity to optimise technology in the public health sector. “How will emerging technology be introduced under the new Health NZ/Māori Health Authority model? How will they keep what’s working well and retire what isn’t working well? There are huge opportunities there, lots of good people doing good things but it’s fragmented, so there is going to be lots of effort to make it work.”
Duddy sees the reforms as an opportunity to optimise the uptake of emerging technology to improve access and equity for all.