|12 May 2022|
This month, the NZ Telehealth Forum (NZTF) celebrates its 10-year anniversary - an exciting milestone for the predominantly volunteer-based organisation which began in 2012 with a mission to provide leadership in sustainable models of care enabled by telehealth that support equitable, patient-centred care.
The organisation was formed when a telehealth symposium ‘A Call to Arms’ was held in 2012 at the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI) and the NZ Telehealth Leadership Group (NZTLG) formed as an advisory group for the Ministry of Health. Malcolm Pollock from NIHI at The University of Auckland was the inaugural chairperson of the NZTLG. New Zealand telehealth pioneer, Pat Kerr was appointed as principal consultant to carry out consulting projects under the NZTLG/NIHI umbrella. Pat retired from her position as Programme Manager in 2020 and was succeeded by Charis Frethey as NZTLG Programme Lead.
The NZ Telehealth Resource Centre (TRC) website – www.telehealth.org.nz was launched in 2014 to provide free telehealth advice, guidance, and support to help health providers and health professionals set-up telehealth or improve their telehealth services. Subsequently, the NZTLG received official recognition for the TRC as the voice of New Zealand telehealth by the Ministry of Health and other health organisations, and the website was officially launched by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman in August 2015. The NZTF has always had strong support from the Ministry of Health Data and Digital. Their timely injection of funding in 2020 enabled the Forum to increase its level of support to the wider community as the demand for telehealth services increased due to Covid-19.
Dr Ruth Large, Emergency Medicine Specialist and Rural Hospitalist became Chair of NZTF in 2017. Reflecting on 10 years, Ruth says, “It is with great pride that we celebrate our tenth anniversary, all the mahi that has gone before, and our vision of an equitable future supported by high-quality telehealth.
Ruth adds, “I have always had a strong interest in telehealth. This interest accelerated in 2000 when I was working in the Australian Outback and a young patient died. Back then we just had a telephone and I thought - there must be a way in assisting those in remote communities to have better access to healthcare. When the telehealth symposium ‘A Call to Arms’ was held, I immediately jumped on board to surround myself with like-minded people who wanted to make a difference.”
Today, the NZTF has more than 3,500 members, three community of practice groups, and eight working groups. The Forum consists of a wide range of professionals from the health and industry sectors who are highly skilled, knowledgeable, and passionate about embedding telehealth into healthcare. This includes representatives from the Ministry of Health, Te Aho o Te Kahu, Health Quality Safety Commission, and The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
For 10 years the NZTF has been leading telehealth in Aotearoa. The organisation has been a critical part of the Covid-19 response providing guidance and support to the Ministry of Health and Clinicians as health care providers moved to provide consultations by phone and video. Fast and accessible internet means patients can receive high-quality care without the need to travel and put their own health at risk, particularly for those living rurally. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of telehealth consultations via video/phone has accelerated, but Ruth feels there is much more that must be done.
“Every health provider should have telehealth as an option. Up to 20% of patient consultations could be done through telehealth, yet we see less than 5%. The pandemic propelled healthcare providers to adapt and ramp up their telehealth services quickly, but health providers have been slow in adopting this concept - while their patients and whānau seem to embrace telehealth more readily than clinicians. Telehealth is not about efficiency, it’s about providing accessible, equitable options for healthcare and the NZTF is urging the sector to move more rapidly and upscale their telehealth offering to give patients more choice to access their health providers.”
However, Ruth adds that it’s important to recognise that there are health providers doing some incredible telehealth work in their region. “A great example of this is Auckland DHB with over 20% of appointments now done via video consultation.”
As part of its 10-year anniversary celebration, the NZTF will hold a hybrid event in September for its members. “Celebrating 10 years is a great opportunity for members of the Forum to come together and showcase all the hard work being done by the working groups, as well as reflect on successes of the last decade. The Forum looks forward to another decade of providing support to health providers and professionals and watching the telehealth space innovate and grow in Aotearoa,” Ruth says.