My colleagues had warned me and sure enough, the moment I got off the airplane in Rotorua, New Zealand, I immediately picked up the rotten egg aroma of sulfur that permeated the air around me. Rotorua is a hot bed for geothermal activity. The city sits adjacent to a giant volcano that exploded thousands of years ago leaving behind what is now a large lake with a well-vegetated cinder cone sitting in the middle. All around the area of Rotorua there is evidence of that distant past with active steam vents, boiling mud pits and geysers. On the upside there is an abundance of steam heat to warm offices and homes in Rotorua. The city is also a mecca for tourists visiting New Zealand from around the world. But the good citizens of Rotorua do have to put up with that smell. Perhaps with enough time one becomes accustomed to it.
I arrived in Rotorua after spending several days visiting Microsoft customers and partners in Auckland and Wellington. In Wellington, we stopped by Capital and Coast District Hospital where I saw some excellent work being done with our business intelligence stack of SharePoint, SQL Server, and Excel integrated with a configurable BI appliance from HP. Hospital staff are able to see near real-time analytics on every patient from admission to discharge. At a glance, administrators and clinical staff can determine how well they are doing managing hospital operations, resources and clinical quality.
The visit to Rotorua was prompted by Microsoft’s sponsorship and participation in HINZ 2013. This was the 12th annual health informatics conference and health innovation marketplace event organized by Health Informatics New Zealand. HINZ is a national, not-for-profit organization whose focus is to facilitate improvements in business processes and patient care in the health sector through the application of appropriate information technologies.
Nearly four hundred delegates and exhibitors participated in this year’s three-day conference. Attendees engaged in lively debates on the merits of everything from community health and home care to the future of interoperability and how to keep health information private and secure. In the Microsoft booth on the exhibit floor, attendees had an opportunity to see how the new Kinect sensor for Xbox One can actually measure a person’s heart rate from across the room by sensing heat and color fluctuations in their face. They also got some hands-on experience with our tools for healthcare analytics.
Last evening, I had the distinct honor of providing a keynote for the HINZ conference gala dinner event. With a theme of “Tomorrow Starts Here” attendees were encouraged to dress in futuristic garb. There was even a contest for best costume. It was won by a very tall man who came dressed as Princess Leah. Yes, these Kiwi’s know how to throw a good party.
Besides providing a keynote between cocktails and dinner (my audience was relaxed but surprisingly attentive), I was seated at the dinner table next to Tony Ryall (left), New Zealand’s Minister of Health. We had a lively discussion about all that was going well, and not so well with healthcare ICT in New Zealand. The Minister is as savvy in business as he is in politics. He also told some pretty good jokes. I encouraged him to invest wisely in ICT, and stressed the importance of planning for the future by laying a strong foundation upon which to build. Currently, the IT sector is challenged in some districts from the widespread use of old versions of operating system software that should have been retired years ago. This impedes progress in deploying some of the contemporary devices, applications, and solutions that would greatly improve the delivery of health information and medical services to citizens in New Zealand.
Based on the can-do enthusiasm I saw among HINZ delegates I have no doubt that, given the support they need, they will deliver on the promise of ICT to improve health and healthcare quality, access and cost. It is just a matter of time.
Let me end with a big thank you to Microsoft staff in New Zealand for their hospitality and support during my visit. You’re the best!
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft