Could New Zealand be the Uber of health?

Orion Health founder and CEO Ian McCrae has an ambition to make New Zealand 'the Uber of health.' But is it a healthy ambition?

“Think of what Uber has done to transport. Or Air BnB has done to hotels. That’s what New Zealand can do to health.”

That’s fightin’ talk from Ian McCrae, founder and CEO of IT health company Orion Health, whose company is taking on the giants of health IT including IBM and Oracle.

McRae’s specifically referring to the Precision Driven Health initiative, launched today by the Minster of Business and Innovation, Steven Joyce.

The PDH is a public-private venture between Orion Health, Waitemata District Health Board and the University of Auckland, with support from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. It’s expected to invest $37.8 million seven years.

More than just a legible doctor’s note, precision medicine is an emerging discipline that combines data, e-health and pharmacology in a kind of orgasmic trinity of health efficacy. The dream is for far greater precision in individual diagnosis and management resulting in better health outcomes and massive economic savings. Orion claims that research shows up to 30 percent of health spending is wasted, from misdiagnosis, inaccurate records, human error and bureaucratic stupidity.

“We need a transformation in health and New Zealand could lead the way,” says McCrae.

So what makes New Zealand’s PDH so transformational?

McCrae claims a confluence of factors makes New Zealand uniquely placed to pioneer precision medicine. “First, and not many people understand this, New Zealand has 20 years of digital health records. Not even Singapore has that. Certainly not the US, though that’s fast changing under Obama.

“Second, our DHBs are big enough and have the right incentives to innovate. They’re being forced by central government to manage their services within budgets and are under constant pressure to look for new ways to deliver services. Compare that to, say, Australia where the incentives to save money and the responsibility to deliver health are not aligned.

“Third, we have academic prowess in this area. Again it’s not something that’s well understood, but a main language used by statisticians around the world, R, at Auckland University. And one of the main languages used in machine learning Weka, comes from Waikato University. Both these disciplines are key the future of precision. All combined we can create world class tools and services that can lead the world in this space.”

The PDH is one of handful such collaborations between industry, academia and government and the first outside of the primary sector. Announced in March this year, the project will be funded with $14 million from MBIE. The balance will come from other partners, including Orion and Waitemata DHB. According the press release: “The research will look at using all available information about a patient’s health – clinical, genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, for example – to enable health professionals to provide highly specialised advice and treatment.

“This type of research can lead to more targeted drug treatment, earlier identification of the risks of a patient developing certain conditions, improved recovery rates and reduced re-admission rates through better prediction of risk factors. It will also deliver improved health outcomes for New Zealanders from more proactive, streamlined and personalised care and reduced health system costs.

“New methods for data mining, integration and analysis will also be developed, which will be applicable across the health sector and in other fields such as manufacturing and IT.”