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Health in the digital age

Dr Lance O'Sullivan

Health in the digital age

Health in the digital age

Local doctor Lance O’Sullivan is transforming the way we look at health with new technology that puts the power in the hands of the patient – and is also helping children who are in need.

For Kaitaia-based doctor Lance O’Sullivan, improving New Zealand’s healthcare system has been a longtime goal. It all began when he was 17 years old and heard a young Māori doctor speak at a marae conference. “He was smart, articulate, passionate,” O’Sullivan explains.

Inspired by the doctor’s talk, he applied to The University of Auckland’s Medical School and completed his studies while his wife worked to support their growing family. After graduating, O’Sullivan moved to Rotorua where he was a GP for five years before setting his sights on Northland. “I considered where the needs are highest,” he explains. “I was the first Māori doctor in 30 years to work in Kaitaia and one of two New Zealand-trained doctors at the time.”

Professional factors aside, O’Sullivan says he is lucky to work in one of New Zealand’s most stunning regions. “We live in paradise,” he confesses (as we talk, O’Sullivan is camping at one of Northland’s remarkable beaches and about to go diving for crayfish). “And there’s a great sense of community here.”

However, after 10 years’ working as a GP in Kaitaia, O’Sullivan began to feel frustrated at the inefficiency of the healthcare system. “There’s a poor utilisation of resources and an inability of people to access healthcare easily,” he says. “It’s a frustrating system.”

This prompted him to begin researching ways to enhance access to medical information and increase efficiency. “People aren’t being heard, and they have a right to know about their health,” he insists.

Technology was a natural solution for O’Sullivan, and in 2012 iMOKO was born. A digital healthcare programme, iMOKO provides free high-quality basic health services to children from 0-17 years of age using smart software. Schools and parents can download the software and use it to conduct health assessments for issues including ear infections, skin infections, orthopaedic issues, behavioural issues and more.

Using a digital scanning system, caregivers from around the country can send precise symptoms to telehealth technicians based in O’Sullivan’s Kaitaia premises. The technicians diagnose the issue and send medication prescriptions back to the caregiver through the iMOKO app.

“I thought, if you can shop online and watch movies online, why can’t you access health online?” O’Sullivan explains. “iMOKO allows us to manage children’s healthcare in minutes, rather than days.”

Accessible for all

And while iMOKO can’t assess serious health issues, it could be the future for basic healthcare in New Zealand.

Not only is it economically sustainable and convenient, it enables ordinary people to regain some control over their own health. “It’s about democratising healthcare and increasing medical knowledge,” he says. 

But it’s also about helping children in need. O’Sullivan has long been an advocate for supporting youth.

“They’re our future, and they generally have good health starting points, but if you don’t fix problems early, you can cause lasting damage,” he says.

Currently, iMOKO helps 8000 children around New Zealand. However, by December this year O’Sullivan hopes to reach 100,000. “We’re starting a PledgeMe campaign to raise $1 million so we can expand iMOKO,” he says. “We’re also lobbying for government support to enable our goal of providing 1 million kids in Aotearoa with free basic healthcare checks by 2023.”

Despite having to tackle financial and industry issues – O’Sullivan says he received several anonymous letters from individuals who disapprove of the initiative – iMOKO has seen great success.

“I was at a school in Doubtless Bay last week and received really positive feedback about iMOKO,” he says.

O’Sullivan admits that it’s going to be a big journey to achieving their targets. “They’re pretty bold goals, but we’re excited,” he says. “We can help communities help themselves be healthier.”

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