From hacking attack to acclaimed health IT overhaul

Peter Griffin

Two years on from a hacking attack that forced its systems offline, healthcare provider Tū Ora has entirely reshaped its IT infrastructure with a cloud and security-first approach.

As the country’s fourth largest primary health organisation, covering the Wellington, Porirua, Kāpiti and Wairarapa regions, Tū Ora Compass Health was facing the same issues preoccupying most health sector organisations in 2019 when its board signed off on a $2 million IT upgrade plan.

“The technical debt tail was wagging the dog,” admits Alistair Vickers, Tū Ora’s Chief Information Officer.

“Some of the technology we were using, both software and hardware, was near the end of its life.”

Joining the not for profit organisation in late 2017, Vickers set his sights on taking Tū Ora to the cloud, retiring over 100 legacy applications, 160 databases and 70 virtual and physical servers in the process. That project has now been completed and is a finalist in the Business Transformation through Digital and ICT category at this year’s CIO Awards.

With advice from consulting partner Deloitte, Tū Ora developed a technology roadmap allowing for its ageing software systems, used to coordinate services across 57 medical centres in the region with an enrolled population of 335,000, to be replaced with one unified platform.

Vickers and Tū Ora’s management settled on the Aceso Pinga system, which handles everything from patient record management, claims and billing to e-bookings, e-prescriptions and clinical rostering – giving Tū Ora the ability to access these selected services based on the needs of the organisation. Tū Ora also decided to consolidate its internal productivity applications on Microsoft 365.

Health hack

The upgrade project was gaining momentum when disaster struck in August 2019. Tū Ora’s website was hacked and defaced, alerting the organisation to the fact its IT systems may have been compromised. Tū Ora took its systems offline while it investigated the breach. The hackers, working under the handle ‘Vanda the God,’ subsequently boasted of having access to the medical details of one million New Zealanders taken from Tū Ora’s databases.

It’s unclear whether patient details were ever in fact stolen in the hack, but a series of independent reviews confirmed its systems were indeed breached.

“It was a terrible time for us,” remembers Justine Thorpe, Tū Ora’s Acting Chief Executive Officer.

“But while it had an impact on our brand, it really created a burning platform for us,” she adds.

“It was the catalyst that helped get people onboard with the change.”

The IT upgrade proceeded in earnest through 2019 in the wake of the cyber attack. That was just as well, as another crisis loomed for Tū Ora – the Covid-19 pandemic.

With Aceso Pinga and Microsoft 365 in place, the organisation’s staff were well-placed to work from home to keep medical service administration running. A move to bring IT service desk support in-house also ensured a smooth transition to the new platforms.

Thorpe says the extensive use of Microsoft Teams for collaboration and communication during the early stages of the pandemic strengthened Tū Ora’s working culture. It has also helped coordinate the work of additional contract and fixed-term staff brought on board to assist with covid vaccinating and swab testing efforts.

“That also required transformation at the general practice level, which was really busy responding to Covid,” says Thorpe.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do it if he hadn’t made these changes.”

Better health outcomes

Te Puna is Tu Ora’s cloud-based system for managing practices, claims and payments and enabling a more connected way of working, and it delivers health insights and analytics to enable better decision making and population health management. Built on Pinga, a product now used as a full national Electronic Health Record for 10 million patients in Europe, and growing its user base across Australia and New Zealand.

They have key indicators that show them how they are performing against their targets,” says Thorpe.

They can much more easily identify what care a patient is entitled to. You simply enter a patient’s national health index (NHI) number and a drop down menu shows the services they are eligible for.”

Those upgrades, says Thorpe, are already leading to better health outcomes for people. But Tū Ora’s IT security has also been significantly boosted. The organisation was recently classified stage 6 in the Infrastructure Adoption Model (INFRAM), an eight-stage international benchmark of healthcare providers’ IT infrastructure maturity. Tū Ora is currently one of only two healthcare providers globally to rate that highly. 

“We’ve gone from the heartbreak of August 2019 to a position where we’ve completely transformed the organisation’s technology,” says Vickers.

Tū Ora is now looking at how it can further extend its digital capabilities to the practices it works with.

“Pinga is not another practice management system, but we want to facilitate sharing of data so that the right people in the healthcare system can build a view of a patient’s life journey.”

The New Zealand CIO Awards recognise individuals and teams who have shown leadership, innovation and foresight in their contribution to ICT and business.

ClearPoint is proud to sponsor The Business Transformation through Digital and IT award which honours the achievements of organisations that have successfully planned and executed a Business Transformation initiative or initiatives through the use of digital and disruptive technologies. By using technology to innovate and transform their business they have produced a range of benefits for the organisation. ClearPoint has a real affinity with this category as transforming any business today requires the right people, process, practices, culture, and of course the right technology.

The winner will be announced in Auckland on November 23, 2021.

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform, Sciblogs.co.nz.

ClearPoint

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ClearPoint is a digital design and engineering company, creating world-class digital solutions for NZ and Australia’s leading organisations.

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