New patient identification system improving health care

30 August 2013

Health Minister Tony Ryall says the new National Health Index (NHI) system is an excellent example of how information technology improves patient care.

Everyone who uses health services in New Zealand has a unique NHI number as a way of identifying them. These numbers are securely stored along with an individual’s details, such as name, address, date of birth and any medical warnings.

“Having accurate information about patients is critical to ensure the right health information is matched to the right person,” says Mr Ryall.

“This can make a real difference to patient care. For example, if a 45-year-old woman is admitted to hospital with an infection, clinical staff can quickly and accurately identify her from anyone else with the same name and immediately view a medical warning that she is allergic to penicillin.

“Each day the NHI database processes around 380,000 transactions by authorised health professionals and support staff. These include identifying a patient correctly so they can receive hospital treatment or updating addresses to send reminders to women who are due for a mammogram. 

“The new NHI system has been rolled out. The old system was over 20 years old and had become increasingly difficult to update and maintain. Through the new system, individuals’ details are checked 80,000 times a day to ensure they are up-to-date and accurate.

“Since rolling out the new NHI system in May, there have already been improvements in data quality, availability and response times.

“The Ministry of Health has seen a reduction in the number of duplicate NHI numbers created, where one person has multiple NHI numbers. And health professionals say the new system works a lot better than the old one.  

“This project has been a significant undertaking. 35 health organisations, including district health boards, breast screening units and a number of private hospitals, have worked closely with the Ministry of Health to test and roll-out the new system,” says Mr Ryall.

The rollout of the new National Health Index platform is around $8 million of a $13.6 million overhaul of New Zealand's health identity systems.

New Zealand is one of only a few countries in the world to have a national patient identification system.

Since 1979, NHI numbers have been allocated to patients as they enter the public hospital system and to newborn babies.  About 150,000 new numbers are issued each year and 98 per cent of the population has an NHI number.

Media contact: Jackie Maher 021 243 7803 or Jannel Carter 027 589 8884