New Zealand and Australia–a common bond and opportunity to do more

This morning I woke up in one of my favorite cities in Australia -Brisbane.  It wasn’t easy getting here.  We had long flight delays out of Wellington, New Zealand, last evening due to driving rain and low hanging fog.

WP_000070On Monday and Tuesday of this week I enjoyed meetings with Microsoft partners in New Zealand.  NZ has always been a hot bed of software innovation with Kiwis quite keen on exporting their good work if possible.  I see no signs of that slowing down.  Furthermore, with the National Health IT program fully locked and loaded, there should be plenty of work to do over the next four years or so.  I also enjoyed my meetings with National Health IT program director, Graeme Osborne, and his staff.  Monday we had dinner together and on Tuesday we met with some of his key clinical leaders at the Department of Health.

So here I am today in Australia.  Like New Zealand, Australia has a fully developed e-Health agenda under the watchful eyes of the National e-Health Transition Authority.  Like New Zealand, the Australian plan calls for a patient controlled electronic health record to improve coordination and information flow between health sectors, decrease avoidable medication errors and unnecessary hospitalizations, and empowering consumers to participate in their own health care.  Over the next few days in Australia, we will be holding clinical leadership forums in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, to take the pulse of physicians and other providers on how the ICT community can better serve them.

IMG_0932Thinking back to last night as my cab driver made the journey from the Brisbane airport to my hotel, I was struck by something else that New Zealand and Australia have in common.  This year I’m not staying in my favorite hotel down by the river in Brisbane (seen right in a photo take last year while visiting Brisbane).  It was severely damaged during the Spring flooding in Queensland.  In fact, flood damage was quite apparent during our entire drive from the airport last night. All along our route, road crews were busy cleaning and repairing long stretches of highways and city streets.  I also know that the downtown central business district, where our Microsoft offices are, sustained considerable damage from the flooding.  Likewise, New Zealand has had its own disaster this year - the recent earthquake in Christ Church.  While nowhere near as extensive in damage and loss of life as the March 11 Japan quake and tsunami, hundreds of lives were lost and the damage to historic structures in Christ Church was considerable.  Newspaper headlines in Wellington warned of coming budget shortfalls and cuts to many public programs because of the quake damage.  Although both the Queensland floods in Australia and the earthquake in New Zealand are responsible for a kind of perverse employment boom in construction, roadwork, and cleanup activities right now, both also potentially threaten important public health programs including the e-Health agenda in those countries.  Yet with healthcare costs taking an increasingly large bite out of national budgets in New Zealand and Australia, it would seem shortsighted to delay needed health and healthcare modernization reforms, including more extensive use of ICT as a means to improve the quality, coordination and consistency of care as well as means for citizens to access health information and medical services more efficiently.  Only time will tell.

Bill Crounse, MD                   Senior Director, Worldwide Health                   Microsoft        

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