Hospitals’ critical IT hardware is outdated, the government has warned

By Phil Pennington

The government has been warned that half of critical IT hardware in hospitals is past its sell-by date.

Significant short-term effort and investment in hospital data and digital technology was needed to “keep the lights on,” Health NZ – Te Whatu Ora told Health Minister Dr. Shane Reti, in a briefing released to RNZ under the Official Information Act.

It also called for unlocking private investment in digital health as part of the solution, noting that these had “increased dramatically over the past five years, especially in the US”.

“We need to unleash innovation in New Zealand in the same way,” Te Whatu Ora said.

“Embrace global standards + reduce local barriers to innovation.”

The briefing revealed that a five-year project of digital modernization of the public health system would begin, on top of a new data and digital services business model introduced in November 2023.

But it started from far behind: “We have inherited significant technology debt that limits performance – a new national approach was needed, but it will take time, effort and investment to rise above the legacy.”

The older systems were “fragile and fragmented”, including:

  • more than 6000 apps
  • 1000 servers, almost half of which were so old that they were no longer supported
  • a quarter of the databases no longer have support and the other half have “extended” support
  • 1000 devices over ten years old.

The system must process the equivalent of more than 5 trillion pages of data.

As a result, vital health data was ‘locked in operational silos’ across 28 different data warehouses and exposed to ad hoc access and a lack of security standards, with no ability to check whether information was being used inappropriately, documents previously released have been released. shown to RNZ.

“Technology is perhaps the greatest lever available to improve care, given the system’s current capacity constraints,” the recently released briefing to Reti said.

“Smart use of technology can free up capacity, realize savings and enable physicians to be more productive and effective.”

It singled out the national public health IT system (set up to tackle notifiable diseases, pandemics and the like) as an exception that was “truly world-class” – even though construction of that system was months behind schedule.

It described eleven international examples that New Zealand could copy, such as a ‘NASA-style’ control center in Canada that increased bed capacity, and ‘hospitals without beds’ for 600,000 patients that could be monitored remotely 24/7, making it the number of admitted patients was reduced by half. , in the United States.

It was also noted how the work of the Māori Health Authority Te Aka Whai Ora – which will be dissolved on June 30 – had helped in the complex area of ​​Māori data sovereignty.

The briefing comes four years after an inaugural national assessment of healthcare infrastructure found that $2.3 billion was needed to upgrade hospital IT by 2030.

RNZ asked Te Whatu Ora for details of any improvements made since then, and for a copy of the new digital roadmap.

The Health Secretary said the wider issues had developed over the past two decades and solving them would require careful planning.

Reti had been assured that priority projects were being worked on, including cyber security, payroll and scheduling, and the Tū Pono Āroha patient administration system at Auckland Hospital.

In a statement, Reti said he would consider new investment later this year once Health NZ delivered a new 10-year digital plan setting out the scale of what is needed.

“This means the government can make informed decisions about deploying resources where they will have the greatest impact.”