If New Zealand were a U.S. state, it would rank 25th in population (ahead of Kentucky) at not quite 4.3 million people.
Still, in his recent 38-page white paper, "Modest Costs, Excellent Quality: Information Technology Shapes New Zealand's Healthcare," (PDF) Pollack asks U.S. healthcare IT buyers to consider the IT vendors from way, way down under.
Pollock is a past chairman of the New Zealand Health IT Cluster, a joint government and private-sector health IT business development group. Dr. John Halamka, the chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, served as Pollock's U.S. adviser on the report.
Pollock boasts that "New Zealand, compared with other countries, can objectively claim the greatest share of successes in primary healthcare" with a healthcare model that "can inform, inspire and assist the United States and other nations." Of course, IT has played a decisive role in helping New Zealand achieve excellence in healthcare while sparing costs, he said.
New Zealand outranked the U.S. in 11 of 12 healthcare measures, according to a report last year by the Commonwealth Fund. How'd they do it? Not by outspending the U.S., that's for sure.
According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, per capita healthcare spending in New Zealand runs about 37% of what it does in the U.S. About 80% of the New Zealand healthcare system is publicly funded, and that helps, Pollack said.
Still, New Zealand has an enviable record in IT-related activities and without direct government IT subsidies. There is a 97% EHR penetration rate among physician practices. Some 97% of practices routinely send patient reminders; 94% use e-prescribing; and 92% electronically access laboratory test results.
There are a half-dozen or so case studies attached to the report detailing how New Zealand-made health IT systems were deployed to improve patient care and workflow efficiency. In fact, the entire report is a thinly veiled promotion for Kiwi IT. But little New Zealand's almost ubiquitous use of computers in clinical settings should give implementation-fatigued U.S. providers a psychological boost. For that reason alone, the report is worth a read.
Halamka, in a telephone interview, said that although the New Zealand government didn't make direct payments to doctors and hospitals to purchase IT systems, it most certainly incentivized their use.
"They effectively said, you don't have to adopt electronic health records, but if you don't, you won't get paid," Halamka said. "What I would learn from New Zealand is that they focused on a relatively constrained population with a relatively constrained set of objectives and they got it done." With 50 states and all their diversity, "I would argue we are on the right course but it will take longer," Halamka said.