'Huge support' for iMOKO health programme here, 20 February 2017

'Huge support' for iMOKO health programme here, 20 February 2017

A pilot digital health programme to help vulnerable children that is proving successful in Northland has been launched here. The mobile healthcare system iMoko is an application used on iPads and is the brainchild of doctor Lance O’Sullivan — 2014 New Zealander of the Year, among other accolades.

It was launched in Northland in 2013, in response to a need for increased access to health services for children living in remote communities in the Far North. Here, five kohanga reo have been selected to pilot the programme.

With parent or caregiver consent, each child is given health checks at their kohanga, daycare or school to help prevent the complications caused by untreated health prooblems such as skin infections, dental infections, strep throat infections or headlice.

“It’s easy. Staff at the kohanga notice a child has a sore throat or nits and takes a swab or photo and sends it on the iMoko app. A doctor in Wellington or somewhere will pick it up, make a remote diagnosis and arrange for prescriptions and treatments to be readied at a pharmacy,” says Dr O’Sullivan. “This is all in 10 minutes and it gives kids access to health.”

He was here for a few days talking to kohanga and other health groups about the programme and how everyone can help. While iMoko can’t solve societal pressures that contribute to child poverty, he says, it can treat the wound poverty opens by intervening at school level and doing things some parents can’t.

Maori are mobile and social media 'super users'

Dr O’Sullivan says anecdotal evidence suggests Maori are mobile and social media “super-users”. One in five low-income Maori and Pacifica households subscribe to a service like Spotify, compared with one in 20 Europeon households. He says a walk down the main street of Kaitaia supports this theory.

“You see kids sitting outside the BNZ — they are not trying to case the bank, they are using the free wifi.”

It is a necessity to be connected and it is getting easier and easier, he says.

The timing is right

Dr O’Sullivan saw the timing was right to hook into that technology — harnessing it for clinical care and services, and effecting better outcomes for communities.

“We know if we can help more of these children early on, we make a difference,” said Dr O’Sullivan.

The programme was launched in South Auckland after seeing the success of it in Northland, and now Gisborne and the East Coast. It has been backed with $100,000 by ACC and reaches 4000 children now. The vision is to reach 300,000 kids by 2019.

Dr O’Sullivan said there had been a lot of interest here in the programme.

“There has been huge support from the community — everyone agrees access to healthcare is too hard.”

Doctor can relate to backgrounds

A father of seven, Dr O’Sullivan has a background many vulnerable children could relate to. He grew up in a single-mum home in Howick in the 1970s. In his 2015 biography “The Good Doctor”, he writes about the serious danger he would become a statistic.

By 15 he had been expelled from two schools and had an attitude problem that was getting him into some serious fights. His turning point was being sent to Auckland’s Hato Petera College and then the strong backing of his wife, “wahine toa” Tracy.

Posted: Mon 20 Feb 2017