Delivering Better Health Outcomes for the Heartland of New Zealand
Approximately 700,000 people live in provincial New Zealand and contribute over 50% of the country's export. But according to New Zealand's Rural General Practice Network, the shortage of doctors and nurses in the regions is reaching a crisis level.
Some of the primary care facilities and provincial hospitals often struggle to recruit and retain the workforce they need as job applicants tend to favour large cities. In 2019, the situation became so severe in New Zealand's northern regions where clinics were so booked up that they refused to take on new patients, leaving many having to travel for hours to visit a doctor in another town.
A number of country dwellers have to deal with long waits for appointments to see health professionals and are less likely to be referred to a diagnostic or a specialist service. Additionally, transport and cost have often been significant barriers with some residents struggling to afford the fees and travel.
The growing frustration over workforce shortages, poorer health outcomes and unequal access to healthcare in the regions have led some to push for change.
The good doctor
Dr Lance O'Sullivan has been disrupting the health system to ensure basic healthcare needs are being met, especially in the communities which traditionally had little to no access to healthcare. With his Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngati Hau, and Ngati Manu ancestry, Lance is one of a small number of Māori doctors who make up just three per cent of New Zealand's medical practitioner population.
After working as a General Practitioner in the public health system, Lance quit his day job to set up a ground-breaking practice in the Far North of New Zealand offering free healthcare to many who could not afford it.
As a public health champion Lance has been encouraging New Zealand to invest in underprivileged families and improve cultural understanding of ethnically diverse patients. His work around successfully bringing health programmes to disadvantaged provinces was recognised by the nation, and in 2014 he was declared The New Zealander of the Year.
In 2017, Lance started to explore how to effectively scale healthcare through the use of technology. He set up MaiHealth which used virtualisation to deliver health services to towns without doctors to help solve around 20 per cent of medical issues such as sore throats, skin problems and infections, before expanding to other illnesses.
Working of its success, Lance approached a local New Zealand network operator that has been fighting to deliver fair value to kiwis, 2degrees and Huawei with an innovative concept to expand the delivery of high-quality health care to New Zealanders in communities who currently miss out.
Disrupting the health system
“Connectivity, sensors, cloud and artificial intelligence can play a role in in bridging the gap where there is a lack of medical equipment or professionals in the lower socio-economic areas of New Zealand” - Michael Chan, GM Technology, Huawei New Zealand
MaiHealth, together with its partners, launched what is the first of a network of containerised medical clinics called MAiPODs. The MAiPOD clinic was built in a 40-foot shipping container which could be loaded on to a truck and easily deployed into areas with little access to healthcare.
The container can be operated by a nurse and an assistant to provide care to people who either come into the clinic or use a drive through service. The key concept is to provide accessible health care by lowering cost, increasing efficiency and effectiveness through smart facilities and cloud-based health channels, through which doctors and healthcare experts can virtually provide expertise and consults in real-time.
Equipped with digital medical equipment, laptops, mobile devices, the MAiPOD uses 4G fixed wireless high-speed connectivity to access medical records in the cloud. The connectivity is extended through Wi-Fi 6 hotspots to connect all of the medical and patient devices, allowing staff to register, collect and share medical records more efficiently, securely and accurately.
On the front lines of a pandemic
“The MAiPOD is designed to help everyone. We can place it into an area of the country that has a health service gap. We’re bringing those who have been left behind up alongside us, and as a country we’ll enjoy a more prosperous society” - Dr. Lance O’Sullivan
The first clinic was put into active operations during the most critical period of New Zealand's battle against COVID-19. The MAiPOD which arrived in the Far North town of Kaitaia just days before the start of a nationwide lockdown and was rapidly converted to include the additional capability as a COVID-19 test centre.
From day one, the New Zealand government has been decisive and aggressive on its approach to eliminate COVID-19 from its shores, emphasising on nationwide testing as a critical strategy. Lance and the MaiHealth team worked around the clock to offer a multidimensional and Māori specific response during this crucial period.
Wireless connectivity enabled the clinic to achieve a seamless workflow where new patients could sign up virtually and be invited to a drive-through assessment. The clinic was able to test for COVID-19 related cases, preventing them from spreading further through the community.
New Zealand’s pandemic response measures induced a contemporary redesign to the clinical procedures and style of operating, introducing new staff roles and systems required to administer a full spectrum of primary health care services with COVID-19 testing ability.
New Zealand has been lauded as a global success case in its fight against COVID-19, eliminating the pandemic within two months and achieving zero active cases in just 101 days.
A blueprint for the future
“We’ve been proud to partner with Lance on this project. The MAiPOD is filling a crucial need and we’re hoping to roll this out right across New Zealand” - Andrew Bowater, Deputy Managing Director, Huawei New Zealand
As New Zealand comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the container clinic has anchored itself as an important healthcare component of Kaitaia's community. MaiHealth and its many technology and healthcare partners are ambitious to extend this comprehensive healthcare system to every part of New Zealand.
The Kaitaia MAiPOD is the first of the containerised clinics Lance is planning to deploy into communities that lack access to healthcare. As MAiPOD reaches scale, new digital capabilities and services will be expanded to help democratize healthcare.
This will include New Zealand wide secure sharing and access of health records, allowing patients the ease of accessing any of the MAiPODs throughout the country, and the use of AI to support health personnel in symptom identification. This technology will enable New Zealand to expand advanced healthcare services beyond its top-tier medical centres.
“It’s incredible to be able to use technology to deliver such a critical service that serves the need of our whānau, hapū, and iwi”. – Cleo, MAiPOD staff member
“It has been great to get the MAiPOD out here in Kaitaia. Healthcare is definitely not something that should be taken for granted, and the community is totally thankful for this” – James, MAiPOD patient