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What is Digital Health?

"Digital transformation of health care can be disruptive; however, technologies such as the Internet of Things, virtual care, remote monitoring, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain, smart wearables, platforms, tools enabling data exchange and storage and tools enabling remote data capture and the exchange of data and sharing of relevant information across the health ecosystem creating a continuum of care have proven potential to enhance health outcomes by improving medical diagnosis, data-based treatment decisions, digital therapeutics, clinical trials, self-management of care and person-centred care as well as creating more evidence-based knowledge, skills and competence for professionals to support health care." World Health Organisation Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025

Digital health is used to describe the information and communication technology (ICT) services across healthcare systems. A broad term, digital health encompasses digital health, mobile health (mHealth), virtual health, telehealth as well as the use of advanced computing sciences in the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, genomics, robotics, machine learning, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence (AI).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers that digital health plays a vital role in strengthening health systems and public health, increasing equity in access to health services, and in achieving universal health coverage (UHC). It could be argued that in the same way road infrastructure is critical for people and goods and services moving around a country, digital health is critical for health system efficiency, reducing medical errors, improving health outcomes, and helping drive more equitable outcomes.

At the heart of all digital transformation in healthcare must be the consumer. Technology and patient portals allow consumers to be actively engaged in their own healthcare and wellbeing journies. Engagement in digital health communications at a population and community level can foster societal development, increase equitable access to healthcare, serve to aid behaviour change, and help connect rural and remote areas. 

Digital technologies have profoundly changed the global political, social, and economic practices of the world. Digital health is also transforming healthcare systems, reducing costs, allowing for greater efficiency, accountability, equity, transparency, continuity of care, and improving health outcomes.

Healthcare systems are diverse, multi-level, and complex. To function successfully, they rely on many different layers of stakeholders working together; communication and transparency are key. Adding to the complexity of healthcare systems are many social and economic factors that affect health outcomes: the triple burden of disease including “chronic and non-communicable diseases, infectious and communicable diseases, and injuries and morbidities caused by external agents”. As well as this, populations are ageing, more people are living with multiple comorbidities, and healthcare costs are rapidly increasing. At the same time, the health consumer is demanding a more personalised value-based healthcare approach, moving away from the prescriptive approaches of the past. This demand is putting enormous strain on healthcare personnel and systems. Comprehensive and well-designed national digital health systems can help alleviate these strains by providing a layer of effective communication and data to patients and clinicians that are responsive, up-to-date, easy to access, and readily available. 

For the past 2 years, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated healthcare system inequities and overwhelmed healthcare systems. Its presence has highlighted that there is a great need for strong leadership, agility, responsiveness, and mobility in healthcare information technology systems. Digital health has been at the centre of solutions for the pandemic and has advanced the digital health agenda considerably, accelerating the introduction of digital health solutions, and enabling rapid technology development across healthcare systems.

Digital health Treaty of Waitangi considerations - enabling more equitable health outcomes for all New Zealanders

Te Tiriti o Waitangi, a principal founding document of New Zealand, strives for elimination of inequities for Māori, improving health outcomes, and to embed any improvements across New Zealand. New Zealand's indigenous peoples, the Māori are consistently and disproportionately represented negatively in health and well-being outcomes in New Zealand. The Health and Disability System is committed to mana tangata: “achieving equity in health and disability outcomes for Māori across the life course and contributing to Māori wellness” (Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020). A focus on co-design and reflecting on the findings and data of digital health to also address Māori rights, worldviews, knowledge, and Māori processes and protocols is vital if we are to improve health outcomes for all groups of New Zealanders. Co-design will also address the principle of rite tahi (equality) through exploring a positive and inclusive digital health system that works for Māori, by Māori, capturing the principles of mahi tahi (partnership) and whai wahi (participation) between the Crown and Māori.

The potential benefits of digital health for Māori are wide including better access to care when and where it is needed, culturally appropriate digital health systems being implemented, improved health outcomes, and equity and equality increased through access to digital health tools and programmes.  

How the Digital Health Association (DHA) contributes to the digital health ecosystem

The Digital Health Association (DHA), previously known as New Zealand Health Information Technology (NZHIT), was formed in 2002 as a not-for-profit, incorporated society and has grown to become the peak industry body for the New Zealand digital health sector with 200+ organisational members. Our membership represents the majority of digital health companies and organisations operating in New Zealand as well as a broad cross-section of healthcare providers, consultancies, legal, insurance, banking, government, regional agencies, and international companies with an interest in New Zealand's health sector.

This strong network brings together custodianship of nearly 100% of New Zealand’s health-related data. We work collaboratively across the health sector, with the government, and with key stakeholders to position digital health technologies as a key enabler of quality health, social care, and wellbeing services. Our members make a significant contribution to, and investment in, the development and implementation of innovative digital health solutions to support and enable the future direction of health delivery, both in New Zealand and internationally.  

Our vision is to have a vibrant member network that makes a significant contribution towards "Enabling a Healthier New Zealand" through world-class health and wellbeing for all New Zealanders fully enabled by digital technology.

Our purpose is to provide an open environment that enables a coordinated, informed voice that maximises social and economic value for New Zealand through digital technology.


The DHA Digital Health Innovation Lifecycle

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Digital Health Association
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