Keeping Kiwi kids well in the cloud

Most people’s mental image of a rural Plunket nurse has a weighing scales and a Plunket book in it. But it probably doesn’t have a tablet and a smartphone. That’s all changed.

When Cynthia Keay heads off on home visits in her lower Northland patch, almost all her records are stored, not in paper files, but in the cloud. And when she does her Well Child checks on her babies and preschoolers, all her measurements and notes are added to the child’s electronic record (although they are still put in the Plunket book too!)

Cloud-based files mean Keay doesn’t have to make the 40-minute round trip from home in Taipuha every day to the regional centre in Paparoa to pick up details of the babies on her list. And once at a client’s house she’s got all the child’s details at her fingertips. Which is handy, since leaving something essential in the office might mean a two-hour drive to fetch it.

But it’s not just digital access to Plunket files which has revolutionised Keay’s role, she says. It’s access to the wider resources on the internet.

“I can show parents all sorts of websites that we can use to back up the information and education I am giving them. Most of my clients are accessing health and parenting information online themselves, but the resources they find aren’t always scientific or evidence-based. And it’s awesome to be able to introduce them to online groups they can connect to.” For example, Plunket has local Facebook groups, and chat sessions on topics like sleeping and settling. Or Keay might show clients with maternal mental health concerns an app or site on postnatal depression like mothershelpers.co.nz.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes I would like to connect a family with another health agency or community group, or a budgeting or counselling service, and they might be reluctant. But if you say ‘I’ll show you this website and you have a look’, I find they are much more likely to be OK with the referral.”

 

A Plunket nurse showing up with a tablet or smartphone also changes a client’s perception of the service, Keay says. “We aren’t the archaic nurse with a pencil and paper, but more modern and up with the times. And that makes the interaction a bit more open. My clients are excited that Plunket is using technology to engage with them.”

Mobile broadband access also makes it possible to do an “opportunistic” Well Child check, Keay says – for example if she turns up at a home to see one baby, and another baby is there on a visit. That can save a future trip to the second family. And when new families move into the region, Keay can access their Well Child notes instantly, rather than waiting up to a month for paper files.

 

She estimates around 70% of her clients have some sort of access to mobile broadband. But while coverage has improved dramatically over recent months, “there are frustrating little black spots all over the show.”

In the future, parents will be able to access their child’s records through a patient portal, Plunket says, and one day Well Child records will be available to other health professionals.

“You will turn up at the hospital, and your Plunket record will go with you.”