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NZHIT: FOCUSING ON IT AS A TOOL TO BRIDGE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

Ryl Jensen understands the digital space in health whether we’re talking about Hira, the national health information platform, systems, the all-of-government cloud approach, or the need for public healthcare reform.

Jensen took over as CEO at New Zealand Health IT (NZHIT) in August with a background in IT including research and editing. She’s combining this role with studying for a Masters of Health focusing on policy and health systems structures, and is currently developing a thesis on digital health governance, informed by overseas models.


She’s been with NZHIT since November 2020 when she put her research and editing skills to use for their sector report. “They liked what I did and asked me to come on board, and then the CEO opportunity came up,” say Jensen.


NZHIT works on behalf of members including digital health companies, providers, government agencies, and international companies with an interest in New Zealand’s health sector. It focuses on positioning digital health technologies as a key enabler of quality health, social care, and wellbeing services. NZHIT also works closely with sister organisation MTANZ which represents medical technology manufacturers, importers, and distributors of medical devices in New Zealand.


NZHIT is working on building relationships with NZTE and Callaghan Innovation to champion New Zealand’s health IT sector. One of the recommendations in their report is to create a digital health innovation hub which would help the sector advance in New Zealand and overseas.


Jensen’s goal is to see our health and disability systems strengthened and more connected, so they drive better and more equitable health outcomes for everyone.


“After two decades of fighting for funding for digital health to link all district health boards, we’re now on the cusp of significant reform of both the district health boards and their digital connections. There is so much to do.”


NZHIT is involved with the workshopping of Hira, the government’s planned new health information platform. Hira aims to provide patients and trusted health providers with secure access to patient information when it’s needed.


Despite only being CEO for a short time, Jensen has already made one important appointment – an operations manager. “This will help free me up to build on our current relationship with the Ministry of Health and to look to create a relationship with the Ministry of Social Development plus MBIE to help support our members further. A lot of our members work across the social development as well as the health space, and if the all-of-government cloud approach goes through, then we can start bridging the digital divide.”


She talks about the duplication problem in health IT. “It’s phenomenal with a proliferation of platforms, 20 siloed DHBs, and a raft of different systems which can contribute to the post code lottery of our healthcare system.


“There are a lot of legacy systems, many of them with manual aspects and prone to error, and this is where Hira will help enormously. Hira will centralise provider and patient data through connecting systems rather than the usual one-size-fits-all approach.”


She talks of primary systems not talking to secondary systems, of gaps and of missed opportunities. “If we are able to embrace innovation, if we have workers trained in digital health and better procurement, we can create better daily workflows and have more accountability… these are all improvements within our reach.”


Jensen says the first step is to deal with the digital debt, followed by the move to Hira which will give health professionals and patients access to their health data. She sees this as a way of enabling patients to take greater control of their health and wellbeing alongside increased accountability and opportunities to deliver better health outcomes for marginalised communities.


She also mentions the need to upskill our wider healthcare workforce. “Many are used to a certain way of doing things and can have a fear of a new way of working. An initiative such as a digital health academy would go a long way to delivering much-needed support in the area of upskilling our health workforce around digital systems.”


She sums up it as enablement; where digitisation can provide connected systems that help both healthcare professionals and patients and allow innovation to thrive.


Jensen is also looking at how she will increase the value of NZHIT’s work with members, from systems, structures, and fees through to what the future might look like beyond the current focus on the New Zealand health sector. “Our members are at the heart of everything we do, and our focus remains about what is needed to build a thriving digital health sector and how we can foster stronger relationships with government agencies to enable connection and collaboration across the ecosystem.”