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Airline data expertise ‘could help overhaul NZ health system’

Air New Zealand should advise health services on how to improve data sharing, says academic

Health data systems researchers should work with New Zealand’s award-winning national airline to develop more efficient technology systems to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, a University of Otago academic has said.

Robin Gauld, co-director of the university’s centre for health systems and technology, said that Air New Zealand’s expertise in developing a mobile phone app to coordinate travel information could be “put to good use” to improve data-sharing systems for national health services.

Air New Zealand was recently named by a global aviation industry panel as 2020 airline of the year. Its mobile app allows travellers to book, share and update flight information and to use their mobile phone as a boarding pass.

Gauld said that a similar system could be used to modernise NZ’s flawed and uncoordinated health data management system.

He said the coronavirus pandemic had caused a rapid shift to online and phone consultations for patients but that there was inadequate data management to support these changes.

“Information systems are in a sorry state. There are multiple, parallel legacy systems, a lack of system architecture—liken this to building a house with no designer or multiple competing designers—and inability to easily share data across the country or between different services,” he said in a university statement.

“Patients mostly have limited ability to understand and navigate the health system using technology and Covid-19 has revealed the urgent need to rectify the situation.”

Gauld has suggested that national health services and researchers should work with the airline to develop a national health information system that can respond more rapidly to Covid-19 data.

“Air New Zealand has led the world with its app, aimed at linking services and schedules, with information available to passengers and Air New Zealand in real time,” he said.

“This unfortunate downtime for the airline provides an opportunity to procure the assistance of their IT, logistics and scheduling teams for the health sector. While they would likely be aghast at what they find, with will and backing, they could bring to health what they have achieved with air travel.”