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Learnings from COVID-19 to deliver more equitable solutions

What lessons have we learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic around building data capability, and how can these lessons be applied to deliver more equitable health outcomes for New Zealanders?

These are some of a number of questions addressed in an article recently published by the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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Aotearoa New Zealand’s healthcare system has been in the spotlight over the last few years, largely due to two generation-defining events: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the reform of Aotearoa New Zealand’s health system, which have brought health into the public consciousness like never before.

This time of change sees the New Zealand health sector’s operating model moving towards greater centralisation and a standardisation of technology and management resources.

But what lessons have we learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic around building data capability, and how can these lessons be applied to deliver more equitable health outcomes for New Zealanders?

These are some of a number of questions addressed in an article authored by Giulio Valentino Dalla Rivaa, Shaun Hendy, Kevin Ross and Andrew Sporle, recently published by the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

 

Capitalising on change

Building sustainable health data capability in Aotearoa New Zealand: opportunities and challenges highlighted through COVID-19’ outlines the opportunity created by national health reforms to learn from experience with COVID-19 presents an opportunity to create “a world-class health system that utilises data and modelling effectively.

“For this to happen, we must build upon a foundation of equity, ethics, trust and transparency and ensure we have the right tools and processes in place for our researchers and practitioners to translate insights into better outcomes for all.”

 

Equity

While the need for people to be given authority over their health data, ensuring Aotearoa’s data landscape is sufficiently mapped, and creating a high-performing, secure data sharing and processing system are discussed in the article, the authors believe equity in healthcare “needs to be prioritised as an explicit national goal.”

According to the authors, researchers and healthcare professionals were aware that epidemics would disproportionately impact Māori and Pacific populations.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts were made to apply an equity lens with Te Pūnaha Matatini’s pandemic modelling identifying Māori and Pacific people to be at higher risk.

However, “inconsistent data records and understanding across the epidemic response made it difficult to report on inequities in a way that could inform intervention.”

“For example, early testing numbers often missed ethnicity information and, when collected, were recorded inconsistently with the Statistics New Zealand Ethnicity standard, impeding comparisons with StatsNZ population counts. Moreover, the Ministry of Health’s ‘prioritised ethnicity’ approach showed its limits.”
The authors make recommendations for change to improve health outcomes equitably, to “improve preparedness for a future pandemic but also enable our health system to adopt the findings of research.” They note that the time is right to put these lessons into action and embed change into the NZ health system.

You can read ‘Building sustainable health data capability in Aotearoa New Zealand: opportunities and challenges highlighted through COVID-19’ here.

The article is authored by:

Giulio Valentino Dalla Rivaa (School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Canterbury)
Shaun Hendy (Department of Statistics, University of Auckland)
Kevin Ross (Orion Health/Precision Driven Health)
Andrew Sporle (Department of Statistics, University of Auckland/iNZight Analytics Ltd).