It takes a village: The benefits of working together to create a digital health ecosystem

Attributed to African village culture, the proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" stems from an ideal that an entire community of people must provide for and interact positively with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.

At Spark Health we have borrowed this ideal to form our belief that it will ‘take a village’ to revolutionise our healthcare system in New Zealand.  Believing it will take many minds to establish a digital health ecosystem designed to help all New Zealanders to live healthier lives through the power of technology.

By coming together as an industry, encompassing Technology vendors and Healthcare providers, we can put the patient at the heart of this change.  Helping to shift the focus from treatment of illness to promotion of wellness by empowering patients to take control of their health information.

During Digital Health week last year, we talked to many within the sector about the drivers for change and the benefits of working together to change the digital health game.


Why the need for change?

It is no secret that staff burnout and rising costs are having a real impact on our health sectors ability to deliver quality patient outcomes.  An increase in chronic conditions, an aging population and clinical workforce shortages will also rush the need for a technology led response.

But it is not all doom and gloom.  Disruptive technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and machine learning have arrived and will change the game quickly.  These technologies will allow healthcare professionals to practice at the top of their license, not be bogged down in administrative tasks that can be automated.  Take Natural Language Processing as a simple example.  Recording the notes and recommendation of GPs automatically throughout the spoken consultation.  Sensors and wearables are an example of technology which could flag abnormalities without bias before the consultation has even begun.  Artificial Intelligence becomes a diagnostic tool and aids with treatment plans, replacing reliance on memory and experience.

The need for change is clear.  But how do we blend healthcare expertise with technology to shift the game for New Zealanders?

Clare Dill, Marketing Director at Spark Health explains the thinking behind the decision for the It Takes a Village theme and activation at Digital Health Week 2022. “We believe in the power of technology to join up and enable the health community to work together. But we also know that we bring a specific set of solutions and skills to the table.  We see our role as an integrator and connector of providers and vendors. By working together we can create a real opportunity for our health sector”.

Dr. Tom Varghese, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aceso Health agrees and believes that “HiNZ 2022 was a very important coming together for the sector…There was a renewed sense of excitement and emphatic support for the move towards a system wherein every New Zealander is connected to their health information and the health service ecosystem through digital channels”.


So, what are the benefits in working together to create a digital health ecosystem?

According to Harvard Business Review (1) “Digital ecosystems are the future of health care, empowering health leaders to digitize point-of-care settings and advance patient-centered care”.

The creation of a digital health ecosystem that secures better outcomes for New Zealanders is something that no single organisation or government department can deliver.  It is critical that the health sector, including providers, other stakeholders, and those in supporting roles, lean into solving challenges.  Ultimately a true ecosystem is diverse and interdependent.


Patients and their whanau can truly come first

Working together as an industry gives us the best opportunity to put patients at the heart of the healthcare system.  It allows healthcare teams, big tech companies, startups and the patient themselves to combine knowledge, information from health monitoring tools, treatment plans and results into one place.  EY’s Health Reimagined report (2) described the goal perfectly as “an expanding and participatory health ecosystem based around the individual”.

A McKinsey & Company survey(3) of key healthcare leaders show us that “the most common core belief about digital health ecosystems is that patients are looking for integrated journeys rather than single solutions”.  Interestingly, convenience for patients is seen as the main success factor, followed by trust and impact on health outcomes.

The COVID-19 response was the first-time many kiwis found themselves as part of a digital health ecosystem.  The ability to access health and vaccination records online, record movements via tracking apps, and produce evidence of vaccination in the form of vaccine passes showcased new possibilities and ways of working.  Known to have a high rate of technology adoption, most New Zealanders are using technology as natives in other facets of their lives.  The shift came naturally for most, and expectations that healthcare needs an integrated system have accelerated.

The key to making the patient the center of the care journey is being able to connect and share information. Digital Health Director at Spark explains “A shared platform must lie at the heart of a true digital ecosystem.  One where secure, robust and open infrastructures and services allow healthcare teams and individuals to access information easily, whenever it is needed”.


Increased efficiency by staying focused on areas of expertise

Collaboration between vendors and providers will benefit the digital health ecosystem of New Zealand by increasing efficiency and avoiding duplication of efforts, allowing for each party to stay focused on their respective areas of expertise.

As one key healthcare expert states in the digital health ecosystem survey “Big-tech companies are building the highway, while start-ups are building the cars and governments are removing the roadblocks.”

We already know the world of health is vast and medical knowledge expanding rapidly.  No one healthcare vendor or provider will ever have all the answers.  By working together and sticking to what we do best we have the best chance to effect rapid change for New Zealanders in the shortest timeframe and for the least cost.


The ability to shift from curing illness to promoting wellness

Traditional healthcare systems are reactive.  Fighting fires by treating people who are unwell in the best way available.  Working together to develop a new digital health ecosystem gives us the ability to turn the game on its head.  The Digital Transformation for Healthcare report (4) talks of the opportunity to “shift resources, focus and use gamification to keep healthy people well or help treat people with chronic conditions mainly in their homes or in the community”.

It goes on to say “Today, we treat patients based on probabilities from populations’ data (that may or may not reflect some of their characteristics) as opposed to the data that is unique to that patient, which would provide more effective and efficient diagnosis-treatment-monitoring and screening”.

The Internet of medical things is defined as “the collection of medical devices and applications that connect to healthcare information technology systems through online computer networks” (5). The example of using data from a patient’s wearable mobile health is an interesting one to discuss when talking about the impact of collaboration.  For the data to have an impact on health and illness prevention a variety of expertise including product development, data integration, Wi-Fi mobility, a patient interface and the expertise to interpret this information prior to symptoms of illness are all necessary.

Digital health solutions are needed that enable data from medical devices and applications to feed back to the healthcare providers that patients choose to share with.  Over time as data is aggregated, this knowledge can be used by providers to make informed decisions for their communities.

The Health Reimagined report(2) agrees with the need for collaboration to make the shift “New relationships and new ways of partnering that blend healthcare expertise with high-tech skills, connected technologies and deep consumer insights will be necessary to foster innovation and shift from legacy ways of delivering care”.


Next Steps

Through their interim Health Plan Te Pae Tata, Te Whatu Ora will grow the opportunities for people to use digital tools to access and use their health information, make appointments, receive phone and video consultations and use equipment to monitor their health at home. At Sparkl Health we challenge the digital health industry to come together to make this happen.  Using our unique expertise for the benefit of healthcare for Kiwis rather than fighting for a seat at the table.

Ēhara tāku toa i te toa takatahi, engari he toa takitini. Our strength is not made from us alone but made from many.



2 Health reimagined: a new participatory health paradigm by

3 Digital health ecosystems: Voices of key healthcare leaders by Stefan Biesdorf, Ulrike Deetjen and Basel Kayyali

4 The Digital Transformation for Healthcare – Stay Left, Shift Left: A paradigm, policy, platform and prescription for wellness and better health. Maynooth University.



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