Scotland's NHS 24 inspires telehealth Down Under

Multiple phone and web-based services in New Zealand are to be integrated by the end of 2014.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

New Zealand's Ministry of Health is preparing to go to tender for an integrated national telehealth service, a Cabinet document reveals, and Scotland's NHS 24 service is a major inspiration.

New Zealand's executive gave the go-ahead for development of the system in June after a national telehealth service featured as a campaign promise in 2011.

A cabinet paper (pdf) says the Government aims to improve frontline health services through telehealth and reduce pressure on after-hours primary care services such as ambulances and emergency departments.

The project aims to draw multiple regional and domain-based telehealth services together into one integrated system, including the deployment of smartphone apps, a symptom checker and email, web and text message-based interactivity.

General practitioner and pharmacy support could be added to the system after roll-out, which is scheduled to happen before December 2014.

The paper says changes in technology have enabled the consolidation of telephone and web services in other sectors. Health should follow as has happened in Scotland's NHS 24 telehealth service, which provides multiple services from a single source.

The paper says an NHS 24 model offers 20% call-centre cost savings to New Zealand, or $12 million a year. In contrast, the duplication of services in New Zealand is resulting in lower awareness of service availability, lack of scale, barriers to sharing health information and higher costs, the paper says.

The project is to be funded from within existing budgets.

A request for information will be released this month followed by a request for proposals, or tender, in February 2014.

The national telehealth service will be free to the user and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Last week the Scottish Government funded a new triage system to be used by NHS 24 to reduce pressure on GPs, accident and emergency departments and urgent care centres. The move is part of a three-year, £500m emergency care plan.

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