Patients to run health care online
The face of New Zealand healthcare will change before the year is out as Kiwis are signed into patient portals allowing them to self-manage their medical records, book doctor appointments and chat to their GP online.
The new multi-million dollar electronic healthcare system is a hybrid of internet banking and social networking - giving patients a secure account to view their medical records and test results, but also a private platform to instantly message their GP.
National health IT board director Graeme Osborne said the patient portal service was "ground-breaking". It would empower Kiwis to take control of their own healthcare.
More than 50 per cent of the country's general practices would be using the service by the end of 2014, he said.
"This is more than a hope. Each region and each district in New Zealand will roll this out."
Online services would initially include a list of the patient's medical conditions and medications, notifications when laboratory test results were available, the ability to book doctor appointments and order repeat prescriptions online and a messaging system to email GPs for health advice.
The portals would be user-friendly for the elderly, but would also be available on smartphone applications.
Osborne said the service would be good for patients with long-term health conditions or those caring for children or elderly parents as it would make accessing healthcare easier.
An electronic patient portal service had been on the Ministry of Health (MOH) radar since 2001 and New Zealand's 20 district health board's had been prepped for the shift for the past three years, he said.
The MOH had watched other countries lose billions of dollars attempting to implement similar systems and Osborne said the move had not come lightly.
However, he was convinced New Zealand would succeed because, unlike other countries, the service had been built alongside clinicians.
The MOH would set the rules and regulations for the quality of the data systems and security standards, but GPs would be in control of fine-tuning the portals, he said. General practices, which are private businesses, would choose their own software and what funding model worked best for their business. Some North Island practices that already used the portals had set up free email consultations for three days after a doctor visit and then charged $15 per online consultation.
Others had set up annual $100 payments for limitless access to the GP email service.
So far, the portals had been hailed as a success by both GPs and patients, Osborne said.
Canterbury is likely to be the leading region for patient portals as it is already home to the country's most extensive electronic shared care record pool, which allows hospital and primary care clinicians access to the medical records of 400,000 enrolled patients at the push of a button.
The arrival of new online healthcare systems have forced the health sector to walk the tightrope between sharing clinical information to provide the best care, while continuing to protect patient privacy.
Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners chief executive Helen Morgan-Banda was supportive of the patient portals. However, she said several issues still needed "deeper considerations".
Confidentiality of information, permission to access records, security and the use of electronic communications to urgently contact patients all needed to be discussed, she said.
The college would work with the national health IT board to help build a code of practice for the portals.
CDHB chief medical officer Nigel Millar said the patient portal was an important step in encouraging Kiwis to play a more active role in managing their own health care. "We want to let patients know that this is the new way of doing things."