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Waikato DHB stops its SmartHealth online doctor service

Waikato DHB is stopping its SmartHealth online doctor service at the end of April following its two year trial.

The service is provided through HealthTap, a US-based technology provider. The DHB’s contract with HealthTap comes to an end on 13 May and will not be renewed.

SmartHealth included a free out of hours online doctor service plus online outpatient consultations with a hospital specialist, both provided on patients’ mobile phones and smart devices through HealthTap. These will both cease from 30 April.

Interim chief executive Derek Wright said: “Our contract with HealthTap comes to an end on 13 May and staff recommended to the Board that we did not renew it for a further year. While the Board did not take this decision lightly, when we are currently struggling to meet the current demand in our hospitals within our budget, they felt the $7.2m cost of renewing the contract was not justified, particularly in our current financial situation.

“While HealthTap itself was a useful service and many of our patients who used it were very positive about the experience, we didn’t engage our clinicians effectively in how best to use the product in their area, and there were technical teething troubles early on.

“We had very ambitious targets for the rollout of this service but only 10,000 people signed up for SmartHealth, considerably fewer than expected. While the free out of hours doctors service has been popular with those who have used it, it has not resulted in fewer attendances at the hospital’s Emergency Department, which was one of our aims.”

The DHB had already begun its end of trial review of the HealthTap service, carried out by EY, which is due to be completed by the end of May and the Office of the Auditor General is also investigating the HealthTap procurement process. However, Mr Wright said they needed to make the decision prior to the end of the existing contract with HealthTap.

He said that he appreciated that patients who had found the service helpful would be disappointed, but said the Board is still committed to the principles of virtual healthcare because of its large rural and remote population. Many in the Waikato DHB area struggle to get access to health services, and delivering services closer to their homes and improving access to healthcare are two of the Board’s priorities.

“We may look at how we provide this kind of service in the future, and the reviews will certainly help guide us in that. We have learned lessons from how we rolled out this service and in future will involve our clinicians and community before we look at new ways of working.”

He said hospital doctors will still be using technology with their patients, for instance they will be using Telehealth where hospital consultants in Waikato Hospital link to patients in rural hospitals through videoconferencing.

Mr Wright said people who had signed up to SmartHealth would be contacted by the DHB and advised of the decision and recommended options for accessing health information, out of hours care and hospital consultations in future.

Please visit the SmartHealth web page for more information.

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