This week's failure of the Southern District Health
Board's computer system is ''an opportunity disguised as a
disaster'', which the whole New Zealand health system can learn
from, Associate Prof Hank Wolfe says.
Prof Wolfe, of the University of Otago information science
department, has been a computer professional for more than 50
years and specialises in computer security and privacy
He emphasised he was not blaming anyone for the lengthy
outage involving the DHB's IT system, which contains patient
records and gives staff access to emails.
The outage came after it was revealed last week that more
than 3800 Southland Hospital mammograms had been lost because
of an IT failure.
Dunedin North MP and Labour associate health spokesman David
Clark said on Monday the DHB had an ''ageing IT
infrastructure'', which reflected cost-cutting across the
sector because of Government funding pressures.
Southern DHB officials have since denied that the system was
ageing, and said much had been invested in terms of having
the appropriate equipment and it being upgraded.
Prof Wolfe acknowledged there was a trend for previous
paper-based record systems to be replaced by electronic
records at the SDHB and elsewhere.
Provided there was a robust system of ''redundancy'' to
ensure there was an immediately accessible IT backup system,
switching to electronic systems was positive.
But increasing the number of eggs in the electronic
''basket'' meant potentially increased vulnerability and
highlighted the need for strong IT backup.
Prof Wolfe said it would be wrong to blame the SDHB for what
Similar problems could have occurred at any of New Zealand's
20 DHBs, and all could learn from what had happened, he said.
''This is an opportunity to face the problem - not to blame
Dunedin [and the SDHB].''
Given the growing importance of computerised record-keeping,
the Government should ultimately take responsibility for
fully funding the DHB IT system.
And a national DHB IT system, with appropriate backup
support, should ultimately be developed, through
collaboration among the DHBs.
It was ''unacceptable'' for medical staff at any DHB to face
a situation in future where urgent medical intervention was
needed to save the life of an unconscious patient, but where
the relevant electronic or paper records were not available
to advise whether the patient had, for example, an antibiotic
allergy, he said.
Prof Robin Gauld, the director of the University of Otago
Centre for Health Systems, said although New Zealand's 20
DHBs had a variety of IT systems, there was an
''evolutionary'' trend towards a more shared approach to
meeting IT needs.
There were moves among DHBs in the South Island to work
towards increased collaboration and improved data storage
arrangements, as well as parallel moves in the North Island.
And there was a case to develop the kind of single-buyer
approach for DHB IT equipment that had been adopted by
government drug-buying agency Pharmac, Prof Gauld said.
Such a more nationwide approach to DHB IT issues could cut
costs and enable DHB record systems to communicate more
effectively with each other.