On 8 June, as most nations continued to grapple with COVID-19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand no longer had any active cases of the virus. The country had recorded a total of 1,154 confirmed cases, including nine deaths, before it had ’eliminated’ the disease.
How vital has technology been in New Zealand’s response to COVID-19?
We have been able to maintain services while the bulk of the workforce is working and collaborating from home. This would not have been possible otherwise. Had this occurred five years ago it would have been a different story. We did have Skype but the advent of tools like Zoom and Teams, and the investment in moving to Cloud services along with high-speed internet, have been significant enablers.
Data was vital to supporting the management of COVID-19, be it in modelling, reporting, surveillance and contact tracing, etc.
There are many other examples. For instance, over the past few months, we’ve seen first-hand how New Zealand’s GPs have tackled some unique challenges head on, leading to the wider utilization of things such as remote consultations.
So I would simply say it’s been absolutely vital to the response.
Can you describe the speed at which innovation has occurred, and what that has entailed in terms of expertise, stress, fraternity and government support?
We have achieved in months what would have taken years. Some important foundations were in place or in the process of being put in place, which helped considerably.
But for me there were a number of important – in fact, critical – contributors. People came together and there was great teamwork and collaboration. There was total commitment to the cause, going above and beyond, being decisive and accepting that we may get it wrong but that we can fix it or pivot, access to funding but also the generosity of people (offering their skills and time) and suppliers (heavily discounting their charges and offering great value add).
Will this lead to a watershed in terms of technology in healthcare?
For sure. I was very clear with my team as we started responding to COVID-19 that if we go through this situation and end up in the same place we are now, we have missed out on an opportunity to make enduring improvements to the health and disability system. I think that we have made gains, great gains in some cases. What will be important is to lock in the gains we have made and to build on these at pace.
We can do it and I believe there is a genuine desire across the board to do what is required, be it about models of care/service design and the associated funding and regulatory changes, technology enhancements, acceleration to cloud, and embracing more agile/iterative solution delivery, etc.
Which companies in New Zealand have been key to the achievement?
Ones that come to mind for me include Microsoft, Deloitte, PWC, Salesforce/AWS, Rush Digital, Web Tools, as well as the many digital/ICT folk in the Ministry of Health, DHBs, primary and community care and the central agencies, all of whom play a critical role in support our digital efforts. But I must stress that there are many others that have been key to the achievements.
There is a lot to celebrate in terms of how we came together in response.