Quote Of The Year

Timeless Quotes - Sadly The Late Paul Shetler - "Its not Your Health Record it's a Government Record Of Your Health Information"


H. L. Mencken - "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

NSW Health’s Dirty Little Health IT Secret Revealed

In the last few days I have become aware of a paper on the feasibility of implementing CPOE (termed Electronic prescribing decision support (EPDS) in the paper) in a NSW Hospital. The reference and abstract for the paper are as follows:

Bomba David and Land Tim : The feasibility of implementing an electronic prescribing decision support system: a case study of an Australian public hospital. Aust Health Rev. 2006 Aug;30(3):380-8

Centre for Health Service Development, University of Wollongong, Northfields Ave, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia. bomba@uow.edu.au

Medication errors are common in public hospitals, with the majority at the prescribing stage of the medication pathway. Electronic prescribing decision support (EPDS) is a rules-based computer system that can be used by clinicians to warn against such errors to improve patient safety and support staff workflows. Despite its apparent advantages, this technology has not been widely adopted in Australian public hospitals for inpatient prescribing. A case study using Sauer's (1993) Triangle of Dependencies Model was conducted in 2003 into the feasibility of implementing an EPDS system at an Australian public hospital in New South Wales. It was found not feasible to implement an EPDS at the hospital studied due to the legacy patient administration system, low availability of information technology on the wards, differing stakeholder views, legislation, and the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of NSW report recommendations. A statewide standard was preferred, with an agreed specification framework identifying basic core data items and functions that an EPDS must meet which can then be used by area health services to: (i) choose a solution which best meets their contextual needs; and (ii) engage vendors to tender for building an open source (non-proprietary) system based on the specification framework.

PMID: 16879097 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

I must say this is a quite astonishing paper. I offer absolutely no criticism of the work of the two authors or the project participants and indeed I am grateful to them for their honest and insightful reporting of the situation of Health IT in a large NSW public hospital. (The paper indicates the hospital has 146 medical staff, 25 nursing unit managers and 15 pharmacists on staff so we are clearly being told about a hospital with at least 15-20 wards and probably 400 or more beds).

On this basis, and the source of the paper, it seems clear the hospital is The Wollongong Hospital.

In promoting itself to potential junior medical staff the Hospital states:

“About Wollongong Hospital

Working in the Illawarra offers good pay, a great lifestyle and a highly supportive work environment. The Illawarra is highly regarded by Junior Medical Officers (JMOs) as a centre of excellence for postgraduate medical training. Many choose to return to us to do their further specialty training.

As part of South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service we are a major provider of public health services to the people of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven region (341,058 people).

Our service provision includes a range of specialist medical services including trauma, intensive care, surgery, medicine, maternity and paediatrics, and cancer care to people living south of the Sydney Metropolitan area and in the Shoalhaven region.

Cutting-edge technology and comprehensive healthcare services are two driving forces in our Health Service. Wollongong Hospital is the optimal size (450 beds) to provide stimulating opportunities for learning, research and development in a cooperative, friendly and supportive environment.

Comprehensive Pathology, Medical Imaging and Para-Medical departments serve the Wollongong, Port Kembla, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven hospitals.”

The claim of “Cutting-edge technology” is clearly a small exaggeration at the very least!

What is revealed in the paper is the utterly inadequate investment in information technology infrastructure that has occurred leaving the hospital with a core patient management system that does not record even the most basic of patient clinical information (allergies, weight and height etc) and which was almost certainly developed in the late 1980’s. (The legacy system is probably the legendary HosPAS developed around then by the Computer Division of the NSW Health Department based on a system that was older still. That it is still in use is a testament to a major determination to avoid change or upgrade for almost 20 years, despite the system's deficiencies.)

Additionally one is left with images of staff crowding around the limited number of available terminals and the use of group staff sign-on’s which ensures access to any data held in hospital system can be seen by virtually everyone who wants to see it, with no audit trails which will identify who it was that was browsing the potentially sensitive data.

Review of the most recent Annual Report (2004/5) for the Area covering the hospital shows that work to establish the new area wide Patient Administration System (PAS) and universal identifier is underway with an expect completion date of the end of 2006. That was the good news! The bad news is the PAS is being sourced from the increasingly likely to fail iSoft. Not only does this mean the possibility of fully integrated clinical and patient management systems is off the agenda for another few years as Lorenzo (the iSoft Clinical System) will not be available until 2008, but that progress may be even slower as the iSoft PAS is replaced with a system that has a future and ongoing support.

Had the 2003 Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of NSW report recommendations for statewide systems been adopted this potentially major problem could have been avoided and almost certainly some useful clinical systems would arrive much earlier.

As the paper rightly points out CPOE can have a major impact on patient and prescribing safety, so much so that increasingly it is being seen as a core indicator of hospital quality and safety. It seems there is neither the will or the funds to address such issues in the Illawarra. Who actually cares that Hospitals are not maximising patient safety? Only the patients I guess. Certainly not the Health bureaucrats in North Sydney who have persistently underfunded e-Health in NSW for at least the last 15 years.

All in all a useful insight into how bad things really are in the clinical trenches in NSW.


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