During a recent visit to Rarotonga as guest speaker for this year’s Red Cross Charity Ball, Dr O’Sullivan also met with health secretary Aumea Herman to discuss using digital platforms and technology to improve access to healthcare services in the Cook Islands – particularly in the outer islands.
While not specifically timed for it, O’Sullivan’s visit fortuitously came not long after the New Zealand government’s recent announcement last week that it would be significantly boosting its foreign aid budget in the Pacific.
Speaking to CINews, O’Sullivan said he’d already had some “exciting conversations” with both the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Cook Islands Ministry of Health regarding the possible opportunity to approve a Cook Islands pilot programme for his iMoko app sometime within the next six months.
“Picture a child in Gisborne being assessed by a kindergarten assistant using the app on an iPad,” said O’Sullivan, explaining how his iMoko app works in New Zealand.
“That assessment then goes to the cloud online and a digital health team in Auckland reviews it, decides twhat the treatment is, sends it on to a doctor to approve – who could be anywhere in New Zealand, and a prescription goes to the pharmacy 100 metres down the road from the Gisborne kindergarten eight minutes later.
“So we could have a child in Pukapuka being assessed by a teacher assistant in Pukapuka, their case being managed in the cloud in Auckland with some input by a doctor here in Rarotonga, and then a treatment plan is approved in the cloud, the medication is made available to the child, and they can pick it up at a collection point in Pukapuka.
“We’re talking to the New Zealand government, the local government, and then some of the Cook Islands clinical community to say, ‘Look, could we make this work?’”
Health secretary Herman said O’Sullivan’s vision could be “an exciting opportunity to advance Cook Islands healthcare into a digital space that seeks to empower communities to take control of their health”.
She did however add, “this cannot occur without careful consideration and mitigation of the risks to the health, social and economic development of the people of the Cook Islands”.
“This would require robust discussions with key stakeholders, including our Cook Islands community, to ensure this is a quality product that reflects the Cook Islands context and enhances our cultural values.”
O’Sullivan said that any approved pilot programme for iMoko in the Cook Islands would be able to capitalise on the New Zealand government’s investment into broadband in the Pacific, referring to the submarine cable project which upon completion is expected to bring faster and more affordable internet to the Cook Islands.
That project is partly funded by a $15million grant from New Zealand.
“My understanding from discussions with the New Zealand government is that they would like to see core services enhanced by that better connectivity,” said O’Sullivan. “So not just Netflix and Facebook, but e-education and e-health.”
While any iMoko pilot programme in the Cook Islands would be child-focused to begin with, O’Sullivan said they would have “a view to getting into adult medicine”, within a year of initial implementation.
“I would hope to be able to offer comprehensive services to more than just children,” he said.
“So we might be able to address some of the other issues around the management of chronic disease for Cook Islands people, like preventative care around trying to help avoid non-communicable diseases, which is a big issue here.”