Growing Health Innovation with Karen Carter

18 July 2019

NIHI turns 30 this year. That’s 30 years of ground-breaking work that has help shape research, informed policy and driven innovation. In the lead up to our conference celebration, we spoke to the team and found out more about the people behind the work. First up, NIHI’s general manager, Karen Carter.


Karen, what were you doing 30 years ago?

It was the year that I qualified as a registered general nurse at the Royal London Hospital. I then went on to work as a practice nurse in a GP practice in East London.

Since then, what do you see as the biggest advances in public health, research and technology?

The ability to use modern-day technology, like text messaging, as a tool to deliver health innovations to large numbers of people has helped move health solutions forward. Text message interventions are a great way to engage with populations that have previously been hard to reach, are often cheaper than alternatives and acceptable to users.

With these advances, what are you working on now that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago?

A stand out for me is SPARX, one of our service contracts. It’s an online tool that helps young people with mild to moderate depression, anxiety or stress. It does this through a type of ‘talking therapy’ in a gamified way. By playing the game, young people are able to learn real skills that can help them cope with negative thoughts and feelings. Technological advances made this possible as well as a shift in the way we deliver healthcare.

Why did you choose to join NIHI?

I joined NIHI when it was The Clinical Trials Research Unit (CTRU). When I moved to New Zealand from the UK, I had spent many years working in the health sector and clinical research. There were (and arguably still are) very few centres of excellence in New Zealand for investigator-led clinical trials. I was impressed with the work, people and passion to make a difference.

And since then, what’s your fondest memory of NIHI?

For me, it has to be the people. I have worked with a great team over the years.

Shifting focus to the present day, what is the biggest challenge you see in research/technology/public health today? And what most excites you?

The biggest challenge we face is funding. From funding the great ideas that researchers who we work with have; to funding the roll-out of initiatives and products, once they have been proven to be of benefit. It can be incredibly hard to have developed something that has been proven to be of benefit, people love, is a cost-effective solution to a population health issue but we cannot get it funded.

That being said, I’m excited at the rate at which technology and attitudes towards adopting innovative approaches to health are changing.

How do you see global issues playing out in New Zealand, and how are we approaching solutions for them?

At NIHI our work addresses many global health issues including: the health burden of long-term conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and depression; the increasingly highly mobile workforce and antibiotic resistance. For the last 30 years we have been developing innovative solutions to these - text message based programmes, apps and websites that have been proven to be of benefit. The challenge is finding funding to roll these products out post development.

Looking forward, what predictions do you have for the next 30 years?

I see the burden on the health sector increasing with population growth and an ageing population. This will be an increasing (if not new) challenge for not only NZ but globally. And I think that NIHI is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge head-on.

Join us in celebrating 30 years of NIHI. Growing from humble beginnings, our ground-breaking work has shaped research, informed policy and driven innovation. More information about, and registration for, our upcoming conference can be found here.