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."

Monday, April 30, 2007

Are You Tired of Being Treated Like a Mushroom – Kept in the Dark and Fed Manure?

This posting will be short and to the point. I was wondering, over the weekend, how many others in the e-Health community feel that all the confidentiality and secrecy surrounding e-Health planning and progress has got a little out of hand. I suspect it may be part of the present electoral cycle but recently I have been seeing two main things happening.

First we have seen all sorts of documents from NEHTA which even by their own admission were just a preview rather than something that could actually be implemented for testing etc. Among the documents I put into this category are:

1. The various technical documents incorporated in the e-Procurement Hub Tender released a month or two ago.

2. The so-called Release 1.0 of the Australian Medicines Terminology (AMT) which was much more like a Release 0.01

3. The Pathology Terminology Reference List v1.0 - Release Note and associated documents

4. The still unreleased document explaining the Selection of HL7 for Australia and what the reasons for the decision were and what the implications for the e-Health Community are. (This document also is one of the secret ones that has been reviewed by consultants – but not been made public for comment by others who might be interested.)

The big question here is why all the haste and why release work that is half finished. Another secret I suppose but I can guess. Maybe a performance review is due?

Second we have news that the Department of Health and Aging (DoHA) and the Australian Health Information Council (AHIC) are working to develop a new e-Health Agenda for the country through a process that is distinctly reminiscent of the work undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group in 2004 and which has led to the present rather unsatisfactory situation in e-Health overall.

Last week a colleague mentioned, in passing, that this directional study was being commissioned and that it was intended that the outcome would be available for consideration by July / August 2007.

Having considered the prospect of such a strategic study, I responded as follows, outlining three points I found concerning about an apparently time, depth and transparency limited approach to the planning.

“First an assumption I have always had regarding any new national strategy is that we should work hard so we don't repeat the mistakes of previous work. These mistakes have certainly included a lack of inclusiveness and a lack of proper consultation with the actual health system and health system providers rather than bureaucrats, peak body representatives and medical politicians as to needs priorities and problems to be addressed. I am not sure what is now asked for is very much the same or not but I think it needs to be raised as a possible risk.

Second, even with a very clever approach, there is a risk of having “lots of time to do it again but not enough time to do it properly”. I also see that as a risk as this is very much a 'last shot in the locker' for 5 years at least. I also fear the political cycle may put time pressures on the project that may make the outcomes less than useful.

My last comment is that, with the way this is all unfolding, the standard operations procedures of DoHA and NEHTA, with almost paranoid confidentiality etc will dominate. This is a worry as it will be a block to getting a real diversity of view and choices to consider. Being 'inside the beltway' can give a very false view of the world.”

I hope my colleague can feed back some of these concerns to the powers that be!

I have no idea how all this will work out ultimately. Given that AHIC has already met twice and there is no public outcome one cannot be all that optimistic. When checked today the AHIC URL was still inactive and I discovered we have a new peak Health Information Management Committee – called the National Health Information Management Principle Committee . There are only two references on the web to this committee and its membership seems pretty obscure. Their functions etc can be found at the following non-DoHA site. More secrecy and very odd I must say!


It is amusing that the page lists all the key standing committees but does not mention AHIC!

I really despair of all this – but must continue to hope I guess.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Useful and Interesting Health IT Links from the Last Week – 29/04/2007

Again, in the last week I have come across a few reports and news items which are worth passing on. These include first:


Top Healthcare IT innovators

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of our Top Health IT Innovators list. We’re excited to be showcasing what are regarded as some of the most interesting—and disruptive—companies we know of in the healthcare IT industry, including some we can
more or less guarantee you’ve never heard of (yet).

Consumer Health IT?

Wondering why you see so many companies working on consumer-type problems on the list, rather than the back-end gear touched by CIOs and network admins? That’s because this may be the year when consumers have more contact with enterprise health IT than they ever have had before. Many of the intriguing technologies we’re highlighting are designed to guide consumers in their care electronically, using smart interactivity and content. Why? Because while doctors are already good at working with standard internal records, they currently don’t have a smooth way to interact with patients online, link the patients into their own decision-making process or collect patients’ self-reported impressions of how they’re doing. We’re not talking about a big boost in the use of PHRs, though that may indeed happen; we’re talking about a two-way flow of clinical and personal information that the industry has never seen before.

If some of the vendors below get their way, though, patients, clinicians and health organizations will have an online data-sharing dialogue, improving outcomes and saving time and money in the process. It’s an interesting shift in the business, and one, that we think is long overdue. We also think it’s going to hit big and take root quickly, so look for some major changes in patient-doctor interactivity this year.


This is a fascinating collection of ideas for Health IT Innovation. Visiting the site provides access to 10 different start-up Health IT entities all of whom have interesting ideas that may make a difference either in how health care is delivered or managed. Well worth a browse.

Second we have:


MPs warned about e-health records

27 April 2007

The government has been accused of ignoring concerns about the privacy of the NHS e-care record

Contributors to a hearing of Parliament's Health Select Committee on 26 April 2007 claimed the government is pressuring patients for their information to be included on the Care Record Service.

One claimed that the Department of Health has adopted an attitude of "suppressed hostility" towards patients who choose not to be included in the electronic care record system, NHS patient Andrew Hawker told MPs.

Andrew Hawker, an academic who has written about information systems and described himself as "an NHS patient", warned that the implementation of e-care records should be deferred until core IT systems are fully installed and it has been "thoroughly tested for privacy".

"I feel like a passenger on board a plane," Hawker said. "The plane has not had many test flights, and some of those have crashed. Meanwhile flight attendants are handing out brochures saying how safe it all is."

Further warnings were made by Paul Cundy, chair of the General Practitioners' Joint IT Committee. Cundy said that the summary care record, even in early adopter sites, shows signs of becoming far more than just a "summary" care record.


This is another piece of evidence for three of the major contentions I have put in this blog. First that major technology initiatives have to be managed in a way they fully involves those at the coal-face. High level consultation during planning and implementation (with executives and managers) that does not reach the grass roots can pose a great risk to overall project success. Second developing an approach to managing privacy that clinicians and patient are happy with is vital. Third it seems increasingly likely that the best way to approach national e-health projects is to develop ‘bottom up’ implementation approaches and not ‘top down’ methodology.

On the same topic the following is also well worth a careful read – written by the developer of the 1998 Connecting for Health Program.


Evidence submitted by Mr Frank G Burns (EPR 60)


It is, frankly, astonishing that a Committee of the House of Commons should, at the beginning of the 21st century feel compelled to undertake an inquiry into the value and mechanics of managing health care records in electronic form.

The last important item regards SNOMED CT.

SNOMED sold to international organization

The College of American Pathologists has agreed to sell the intellectual property rights to its Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms, or SNOMED CT, to the newly formed International Health Terminology Standards Development Organization, based in Denmark, for $7.8 million. CAP's decision to hand off SNOMED to an international organization was announced in January. To provide a smooth transition, CAP will continue to support standards-development operations with the new entity under an initial three-year contract and will continue to provide SNOMED-related products and services as a licensee of the terminology, according to an announcement today by the 16,000-member, Northfield, Ill.-based medical specialty society.

Charter members of the successor organization to the CAP and its SNOMED International division are organizations representing Australia, Canada, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S.

"As the international adoption and use of SNOMED CT has grown, it has become apparent that an international governance structure that is open to the entire global healthcare community would be to everyone's benefit," said CAP President Thomas Sodeman, in a news release. "The college is proud to have assisted in this important milestone." -- by Joseph Conn / HITS staff writer

Details of what is happening in Australia can be found here:


A Canadian announcement of similar news can be found here:


The next step, for us in Australia, will be for NEHTA to announce the license conditions that will now operate and what the going forward arrangements for maintenance of the Australian version – including extensions for medicines etc.


Standard for ER Systems in Works

(April 25, 2007) A new “registered profile,” or a subset of an existing standard, could ease the creation of criteria to certify the functionality, interoperability and security/reliability of emergency department information systems.

Standards development organization Health Level Seven has adopted the Emergency Care Functional Profile as the first registered profile based on HL7’s EHR System Functional Model standard that was adopted in February. The functional model contains about 1,000 criteria covering more than 150 functions in such areas as medication history, problem lists, orders, clinical decision support, and privacy and security. The functional model is designed to provide guidance to electronic health records software developers and purchasers.

The new Emergency Care Functional Profile is a subset of the functional model, containing criteria specific to emergency department information systems.


This profile is a useful step forward and will be of interest to all involved in emergency and ambulatory care system development. More information at the site.

All in all quite an interesting week.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Something You Might Be Missing – The Comments.

As the blog has gradually acquired more readers there has gradually been an increase in the number of Comments posted after each article is published.

Neither the RSS Feed or the e-mail Alert lets readers know that new comments have been posted.

Since the beginning of 2007 there have been a range of really insightful and useful comments posted. (Thanks to all who have done so!) Can I suggest that readers occasionally scroll down the last few articles and check for new comments when visiting as I can find no obvious way to ensure these gems are not missed.

It is of note that many users often carefully consider their comments for two or three days before commenting so it is worth checking out at least the last week when visiting the site.

Oh! and before I go - yesterday it was a month since I have the note from DoHA regarding my letter to Mr Abbott. No response as yet.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

It Really is Very Hard to Make Shared EHRs Work.

Sobering news for all the proponents of Shared EHRs came in overnight.

The original article from E-Health Insider can be found at the following URL:


iHealthBeat (http://www.ihealthbeat.org/) summarises the key findings well.

Majority of British Physicians Oppose IT Project, Survey Finds

Sixty-six percent of British general practitioners said they will not allow their own health records to be shared through the National Health Service's Summary Care Record program, according to a survey of general practitioners by Pulse magazine, E-Health Insider reports. Only one-third of respondents said they plan to advise their patients on sharing their health information.
The survey also found that:

  • About one-third of physicians said they will allow full sharing of their patient records;
  • Four out of 10 physicians say they will opt out completely from the program and allow none of their records to be shared;
  • 80% of physicians surveyed still think that sharing electronic health records can threaten patients' confidentiality, despite a government marketing campaign to promote the IT program; and
  • 67% of general practitioners oppose the implied consent "opt out" model, which has formed the basis for the program to be rolled out, E-Health Insider reports.

Lord Warner, the former head of the NHS IT program, said that physicians have become "over-protective" of their existing health record system, according to E-Health Insider (E-Health Insider, 4/24).”

The lessons here are clear. The first lesson is that the implementation of a Shared EHR is a project which must be undertaken with continuing and ongoing consultations with clinicians and patients to ensure the directions being adopted are acceptable and will foster adoption and use.

The second lesson it seems to me is that in 2007 the Shared EHR is not a technical problem but a cultural change problem where is the trust of the users of the system is not developed and maintained the risk of failure of the overall project failure is greatly increased.

The third important lesson is that if the approach adopted minimises compulsion, maximises patient control of their information and maximises voluntary choice as to whether to use the technology or not, assuming good technical design, while slower to reach, genuine adoption and use is much more likely.

Separate from this report, the interested reader is referred to my article of March 15, 2007 which is found at the following URL:


Without going over old ground it seems to me a simple Shared EHR can be very useful, but only if it is developed in the context of using the information from advanced clinical systems to provide information to and retrieve information from the shared record. Clearly the shared record also needs to be properly standardised and securely transmitted, received and stored.

All this is easily done, using standard and well tried technology. Making use of the record voluntary for both doctor and patient is the way to go. With a voluntary record, I am sure what will happen is that those for who having their record available is important the service will be used, and those who are unsure or uninterested simply won’t. It should really be as simple as that.

I suspect that among those with chronic and complex disease, in the scenario I suggest above, there would soon emerge pressure on clinicians from their patient’s to upload records as “information insurance” for the chronically ill as well as assisting in the overall co-ordination and delivery of their care.

We must make sure any Australian initiative to develop and deploy a Shared EHR has these lessons from the UK firmly in mind and approaches the project in a genuinely voluntary way!


Monday, April 23, 2007

It’s the Season for Silly Health IT Benefits Claims!

No sooner have we had NEHTA tell us how much we can save from e-Health but now we have a second entrant to tell us something different and even more incredible.

The Australian Centre for Health Research has just published (April 2007) a 19 page document entitled “E-Health and the Transformation of Healthcare”.

For those interested in reading the full document it can currently be found at the following URL:


The headline claims from the executive summary are as follows:

“The impact on the individual can be imagined; the cost to the nation is immense. In Australia, it’s estimated that improved knowledge sharing and care plan management for patients with chronic disease would generate direct savings to the health care system of more than $1.5 billion per annum. Savings to the community from associated non-health care costs are of the same order. And increased workforce participation and productivity could add a further $4 billion per annum to the economy.

For the patients, home monitoring could reduce emergency room visits by up to 40%, hospital admissions by 30-60% and length of hospital stays by up to 60%.”

All I can say is “Here we go again!

”The argument made in the paper is:

• Disease Management (DM) and similar process improvement processes work
• Technology and ICT is an important enabler of DM
• If we approach Chronic Disease with technology there is a huge benefit possible.

This is all true as far as it goes. There is also no doubt – from a huge range of studies mentioned in other reports not cited here - that Health IT can make a difference. However the evidence as I read it does not support the proposed approach.

The paper does however get one point exactly right in the following:

“The Paper raises one final, important point - that of incentives. There is a cost to building this connectivity and information sharing but there is a mis-alignment between those who pay and those who receive the benefit.”

And rightly suggests who should pay

“Another important component is for the major beneficiaries of more efficient and effective health care (that is, governments, private insurers, and employers) to provide incentives for the use of electronic services, broadband health networks, and best practice processes.”

Of course we have yet to see any offers from Government etc to really ante up what is needed!

In summary the suggested approach is:

“ We should focus on three important areas:

1. get healthcare providers connected to one another
2. track health events across the continuum of care
3. create a broadband network of health services

In business, most high priority and high volume communications are handled electronically. But in health care, high-importance communications – e.g. referrals and hospital discharge summaries – are created using paper and pen and delivered via fax, letter and even by hand.

This is the point where we should begin – simply, aim to get referrals and discharge summaries to be delivered electronically in a convenient and secure form.”

To be polite this is a spectacular over-simplification of what is needed to achieve substantial benefit. Sure, - I have always been very keen on aiding the flow of key clinical documents electronically – but for a lot of good reasons this should be done in a secure, standardised, managed fashion and not as seems to be suggested here by provision of simple connectivity.

Likewise the second and third focus areas are dramatically more complex than identified in the paper.

The document has a ready, fire, aim feel to it. It is of note that the only Health IT benefits study that seems to be cited is this one while there are many other much deeper and much more recent studies readily available:

DMR Consulting, “HealthConnect Indicative Benefits Report”, Final Version, February, 2004 (extrapolated to latest chronic disease data). This can be found here:


This document was so unpersuasive as to the available benefits of HealthConnect that the Commonwealth commissioned a review by the Boston Consulting Group (April 2004) and this review resulted in the change of HealthConnect from a funded strategic program to nothing more than a “change management strategy”.

Let me be clear about the problem I have with all this. Realistic estimation of the value of benefits from Health IT requires a clear exposition of what technology is to be implemented and how it will then provide benefit. To not have a Strategy for what is to be done, an Implementation Plan that describes how it will be done and a realistic Business Case that identifies both costs and benefits no one is going to care to take notice of, or action, unsupported claims of benefits.

We have seen two claims for major benefits that can be derived from Health IT (This present one and the study mentioned in NEHTA’s recent presentations). It seems passing strange that the two studies identify largely different sources of benefits and seem to come up with wildly different estimates of what is achievable.

The flaw in both studies is that they don’t proceed from a deep understanding of the business of Health Services Delivery and are not informed by what is needed at the clinical coal face. Only once the requirements and problems of the sector are clearly identified can a strategy to deploy technology to assist be developed and have a chance of success. Implicit in the strategy will be the benefit opportunities that will need to be firmed up. This is what then needs to be refined through the development of the implementation plan and business case which will reveal where investment makes sense and can make a difference. The last step (not the first) is to estimate the quantum of benefits and develop the approach to be used to capture them as implementation proceeds.

As I have said before the work required to convince the hard heads in Treasury to invest is substantial and needs to be a comprehensive package (Strategy, Implementation Plan, Business Case and Benefits Realisation Plan).

Without this work being done to a high quality I predict just nothing will happen.

These half baked studies do more harm than good I believe.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Useful and Interesting Health IT Links from the Last Week

Again, in the last week I have come across a few reports and news items which are worth passing on. These include first:


Finding Foreman

George Foreman named his five sons George. Will the National Health Information Network be able to pinpoint his health records? Maybe. Maybe not.

BY Nancy Ferris

Published on April 16, 2007

George Foreman — boxer, clergyman and entrepreneur — named his five sons after himself. So when the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) is up and running, how will a doctor find the records for the right George Foreman?

Accurately matching patients with their electronic records is at the heart of the proposed network. But what if doctors search NHIN and find no records for anyone named George Foreman? If few matches are found, users will soon pronounce the network a waste of time and money, and they’ll abandon it.

However, if too many George Foreman records are found, the network could seem equally useless. Just imagine the number of records created over the years for the boxer’s sons and others with the same name who are not related to the more famous Foremans.

In that case, a doctor might be unable to determine which of the many records relate to his or her patient. If the doctor guesses wrong, the patient could end up with treatment that’s ineffective or even harmful. What’s worse in the eyes of many people is that the doctor’s employees could see the records of someone else’s patients.

Alternatively, someone from the doctor’s office could call the patient and ask questions such as, Did you ever live on Maple Street? Did you seek treatment for a broken leg in Grand Rapids? What was your maiden name? But that approach is labor-intensive and hardly seems to fit with the notion of a 21st-century information network. It also isn’t likely to provide enough value in return for the billions of dollars it will cost to create the network.


As always see the sites for the full article. This is a useful listing of the problems you can face without really robust unique identifier approaches and is an especially large problem for Shared EHRs which do not have such technology at their core.


IT and e-health is 'every nurse's business'

17 Apr 2007

IT and e-health is every nurse’s business because it has to be integrated into practice, nursing leader, June Clark, said on the eve of a major discussion at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress this week.

The discussion on the theme “Computerised records – what can they offer?” will be available online at the College website. Professor Clark, a former president of the college and chair of the RCN Information in Nursing Forum, told E-Health Insider she hoped as many people as possible in the e-health community would get involved.

She hopes the session will raise awareness on several fronts: “The first is awareness among nurses that e-health and IT and the introduction of IT into the NHS is every nurses’ business because it has to be integrated into nursing practice,” she said.
“The other awareness that I want to get across to this audience and more generally that electronic patient records must have appropriate nursing content, not just medical content.”


Another useful point is being made here – the reason we prefer the term “Health Informatics” rather than “Medical Informatics” - it the Health IT needs to be used by all health professionals if the full benefit is to be achieved.


Parliamentary report urges action on NPfIT

17 Apr 2007 09:26

Public Accounts Committee has published a report that calls for urgent action to reduce the risks of the NHS National Programme for IT.

The success of the NHS National Programme for IT is precarious, with key projects running late and suppliers struggling to deliver, according to a long-awaited report from Parliament's influential Public Accounts Committee.

"There is a question mark hanging over the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), the most far-reaching and expensive health information technology project in history," said committee chair Edward Leigh on 17 April.

The full report can be found here:


There seems little doubt that the huge UK programme has a large number of both good and bad bits. Despite the differences in Health Systems there is always a lot to learn from such reports. Careful reading recommended for those involved in major Health IT projects.

Further perspective can be found in a recent editorial in the MJA entitles "Lessons from the NHS National Programme for IT" written by Professor Enrico Coiera of UNSW. See the following URL:



Report backs electronic health records

April 19, 2007 - 5:39PM

Up to $7 billion could be saved each year if Australia's health providers shared patient data electronically, says a new report.

Commissioned by the Australian Centre for Health Research, the report argues a broadband network of health services should be created to allow patients to be tracked no matter where they go for medical services.

Monash University e-health research unit director Michael Georgeff said about one-quarter of all Australians suffered from a chronic illness and many had complex health needs.

"Chronic illness requires close monitoring and, often, intensive management by a team of health professionals," Professor Georgeff said.

"But because of the way our health system currently operates, one doctor will often not know what tests or medications have been prescribed by another doctor even when they are members of the same team."


The full report can be found at the following URL:


I have deep concerns about this report and it claims which will be the subject of a future article. Download it and consider the claims it makes for yourself. (It’s only 19 pages)


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Policy Relating to Comments on the Blog.

The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for discussion of the issues surrounding Health IT in Australia.

In that purpose there is the desire, from me, for accuracy, honesty and openness from all contributors.

Lately there have been a number of anonymous / whistle-blower comments on specific topics.

My view is that I will publish these – as long as they are free of direct personal attack and other objectionable comment on the basis that sunlight is a very good thing in the public policy arena – which is where this blog engages.

I am also more than prepared to publish any contrary views – both anonymously and as named contributions. Such contributions are both welcome and encouraged. Objectivity and truth is what is sought here!

I am also not planning to censor discussion – but I will protect any party from gratuitous personal abuse where possible - , including deleting posts I am informed or see are defamatory, obscene or deeply personally offensive. I will, of course, be the arbiter of that.

I believe in an open and transparent society and that the organs of government that support society should be equally open and transparent.

Would it were so!


ps - I know that this is obvious - but it needed to be said. D.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Few Other Things Regarding the AFR Article on E- Health.

The Australian Financial Review Article of the 13th April, 2007 entitled “National e-health would save $30bn” by Julian Bajkowski makes a few comments I really don’t think should go through to the keeper.

The article states:

The study has increased pressure on the federal government to abandon a number of failing federal electronic initiatives, including the $128 million HealthConnect project, which has yet to deliver tangible results.”

I would suggest this is wishful thinking as we see the grossly overfunded non-strategic trials which are being still being conducted by HealthConnect SA and HealthConnect Tasmania. It would be good however if this was an outcome and they were canned.

The article states:

Doctors, clinicians and hospitals have long sought electronic health and medical records that could be used across Australia's different state health systems.

This really misses the mark. Most care (95%+) is delivered within a patient’s local area and virtually all care is delivered in the state of a patient’s residence. Doctors would be very keen to see records for their patients able to be used between the local practice, the local hospital and the local investigatory providers. The rest would be a cherry on the icing on the cake I would contend.

The article states:

But developing the standards has been a battle because of a series of bitter quarrels between technology suppliers and standards bodies.

This is largely just wrong. Between NEHTA and Standards Australia’s (SA) Health IT working parties there have been tensions and a lack of quality two way communication – but the Health IT industry has, for the most part, very good relations with SA. Relations between the Health IT industry and NEHTA are dodgy, at best, despite anything NEHTA may say.

The article states:

NeHTA recently recruited the former head of Queensland-based Cooperative Research Centre for the Distributed Systems Technology Centre, Mark Gibson, as its chief technology officer.

The hiring represents a coup as it will ease NeHTA's access to a vast repository of e-health-related intellectual property held in trust by the shareholders of DSTC after the group's funding was terminated by the federal government in 2005.

While not commenting on this particular appointment directly, I seriously doubt there is much useful intellectual property held in trust by DSTC given the failed and never properly reported HealthConnect trials it was involved in.

I hope these comments assist in understanding where things currently sit.


Monday, April 16, 2007

A Headline To Die For - National e-health would save $30bn – Pity it’s a Wild Unsupported Bit of Speculation.

Friday 13 April, 2007 will go down in history as a very black day for e-Health in Australia. On that day, based on an apparent back door leak, Julian Bajkowski of the Australian Financial Review published an article entitled “National e-health would save $30bn”. This assertion is based on work undertaken by the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) under its Benefits Realisation work program and is based on a Systems Dynamic Model developed by modelling consultants. Before discussing the details it is important to keep in mind a very important fact about all such models. That is that ‘no models are correct, but some are useful’ (Robert Box)

Regular readers of the blog will wonder why I should be concerned by this claim of such huge net benefits. The reason is very simple. While I firmly believe there are major benefits to be harvested from the deployment and use of e-health – and I believe the literature makes it reasonably clear where they are to be found – such claims are simply unsupportable without very substantial additional evidence.

NEHTA talks of the model they have developed in the following terms:

Modelling approach used for the study
• System Dynamics Model:
- Increasingly preferred (e.g. NHS)
- 900+ variables, 300+ calculation nodes, 25 sectors
• National and international expertise engaged:
- Jurisdiction, consumer and clinician input
• Focuses on major e-health benefits, costs and relationship to demand, quality and safety as e-health initiatives are rolled out over a 10 year period

Additionally they cite a range of published evidence from CITL, RAND etc and claim that from 3400 papers published since 1980 that Adverse Drug Events can be reduced by 50% (or more) by using Computerised Physician Order Entry (CPOE) with effective interactive decision support – among a range of other benefits that have been identified for e-Health.

They also suggest that there are 500,000 years of life to be saved in the Australian Population over 10 years with the implementation of e-Health.

What is conspicuously absent from all the presentations is the ‘how’? We are not told any of the basics that are required to make this credible. Obvious questions are:

What is the strategy, transition and implementation plan to move from where we are now to this 10 year future nirvana? If you don’t have that properly understood, documented and agreed with stakeholders how can you make any sensible comments about possible benefits? This is serious cart before the horse material I believe!

What are the assumptions for the capabilities of the systems to be used in hospitals and ambulatory practice to achieve these benefits? (It should be noted CPOE is notoriously difficult and complex to implement in hospitals – to the extent that – when last I looked – no more than 5% of hospitals globally have such systems in place. They are also not cheap to buy and implement.)

How much will such systems cost and who is going to pay for them?

What is a realistic time frame for replacement of present systems with the new more capable systems assuming they are readily available?

Given the vast majority of patient care is delivered in the private sector just what incentives (from Government) will be required to get the private sector on board?

Do we have the doctors, nurses and pharmacists who are sufficiently well trained and skilled in IT to make the transition to the e-health way of doing things?

Who is going to capably manage and co-ordinate such a huge change management and technology implementation program?

Are the assumptions in the model regarding a Shared EHR strategy correct? Is that ultimately the right approach for Australia? There is certainly a case for a careful review of the options being deployed around the world.

So what do we have here? Essentially what we have is a model without a strategy for architecture, implementation, funding and subsequent benefits management. There is no point putting out a generic claim about a possible scale of benefits without laser like clarity on just what is being proposed – or the economic hard heads in Treasury will shoot you down before you get started. This is where my concern lies. We have a once in a generation chance to propose a major re-investment in e-health for Australia and for it to succeed we need a model of an implementable and stakeholder approved strategy and implementation approach. Without clear and totally credible answers to all the questions I pose above, this initiative will turn out to be an expensive waste of time and effort.

It is vital in all this that those managing this proposed implementation ‘under promise’ and ‘over deliver’. I see no evidence of that approach in all this.

It is all very well for the Financial Review to publish an exciting headline and it is always important not to let the facts get in the way of a good story but I really think a little more digging regarding the reliability of NEHTA’s numbers, the assumptions and risks involved, the underlying strategic assumptions and recognition that things are usually much more complicated than they appear in a proposed, and largely yet to be defined, project of this scale would have been useful.

I look forward to NEHTA’s release of the Strategy and Implementation Plan that the model assesses along with the model and its assumptions. I will not be surprised to find I am once again disappointed and that sadly it all turns out to be largely ‘smoke and mirrors’ which will get us nowhere.

A final point that should be made is that the NEHTA Benefits Case relies on the deployment of clinical decision support (CDS). That, CDS, is sadly not actually part of NEHTA’s work plan as currently published. If it is actually worth so much, focus is needed and fast! Whoops!

We will wait and see!


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Useful and Interesting Health IT Links from the Last Week

Again, in the last week, I have come across a few reports and news items which are worth passing on. These include first:


Wal-Mart sees medical clinic boom in retail stores

Thu Apr 12, 2007 4:40PM EDT

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is forecasting more than 6,600 in-store medical clinics will open their doors in the next five years in retailers nationwide, a company official said on Thursday.

"I think it's an indication of how bullish individuals (chief executives of clinics and retailers) are," Alicia Ledlie, senior director for Wal-Mart's health business development, said at a health care retailers convention in Orlando.

With 75 clinics in Wal-Mart stores in 12 states, the company has ended its pilot program and plans a faster roll-out of additional clinics nationwide.

Ledlie said Wal-Mart is considering providing its in-store clinics with a common electronic medical records system so patient care can be tracked from store to store.
She said the system could ultimately be part of a universal electronic medical record system for the country


See the rest of the article at the URL above. This is a really interesting development where the world’s largest retailer is developing both a huge number of medical clinics and, presumably for good commercial reasons, to utilise a sophisticated EHR system to provide seamless care to their customers no matter which store the seek care from. 6,600 clinics is an amazing number of clinics!

Second I noted this report from Europe. The value is in the second and third URLs that permit access to a wide range of information on e-health plans in all 27 member countries of the EU.


Report shows good progress on e-Health

Published: Thursday 12 April 2007

Member states have made good progress in implementing the EU's e-Health strategy but have failed to address education and socio-economic issues falling under their responsibility, a new progress report shows.

An EU report confirmed that good progress has been made across the continent following EU member states' commitment, in the European e-Health action plan to develop a national or regional roadmap for e-Health.


"e-Health is increasingly becoming an integral element of national health system objectives. It is seen as a key enabler in wider contexts like improving the quality and efficiency of public services, or speeding up the development towards knowledge driven societies," states the report, drafted by a project entitled Towards the Establishment of a European eHealth Research Area (eHealth ERA).”

A useful listing of European Approaches to E-Health


The third is a short piece of Australian news.


E-health authority appoints new chair

Sandra Rossi 10/04/2007 10:31:43

Director-general of the Queensland department of health, Uschi Schreiber, has been appointed chair of the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).
Schreiber will replace the outgoing secretary of the Victorian department of human services, Patricia Faulkner.”

There is but one comment to be made on this appointment. Ms Schreiber needs to be a hands on Chairperson of NEHTA and ask the hard questions about the appropriateness of the current NEHTA strategic directions. This is the core function of the NEHTA Board and especially its chairperson. If she does not do this – and listen to a broad range of voices who are not largely beholden to NEHTA for their income - she runs the risk she will be seen my many in the e-health domain as a dog who is being wagged by an organisational tail!

A good place to research for some had questions might be this very blog.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why The Government will Never Fund a Shared EHR – And Probably Shouldn’t.

As regular readers of the blog will know development of a National Shared Electronic Health Record (SEHR) has been some form of Holy Grail for the e-Health bureaucracy and for many government e-health strategists and planners. Indeed it is no secret that NEHTA is developing such a project. From their web site we read:

Shared Electronic Health Record

NEHTA is working to develop specifications and requirements for a national approach to shared electronic health records. These records will enable authorised healthcare professionals to access an individual's healthcare history, directly sourced from clinical information such as test results, prescriptions and clinician notes. The shared electronic health record will also be able to be accessed by individuals who have received healthcare services.

Specifically, NEHTA will focus on developing:

• Operating concepts for a national approach to establishing and maintaining shared electronic health records;

• Policies, requirements, architecture and standards for a national approach to shared electronic health records; and

• A business case to substantiate and validate the proposed approach.

For the health system within Australia to reap the full benefits from the IT, governments and healthcare providers need to make the case for undertaking further investment including the development of a national system of shared electronic health records. The case for the required level of investment depends on the credible quantification of the costs and benefits of providing such.”

I understand that NEHTA plans to have developed the SEHR business case ready for submission to the Council of Australian Government (COAG) sometime in 2008. I would be prepared to wager a whole days wages they will not get approval to proceed to implementation, but will concede there may be some funding provided to have NEHTA (or someone else) go ahead to develop some more detailed plans and costings.
Before considering the possibility of SEHR Project success and funding we need to identify what is being proposed. From the most recent NEHTA presentations we see the following:

So from when funding is approved to proceed with the total project – probably in 2008 / 9 at the earliest - we will have the following happening. First two years of set up, certification, planning and procurement of a SEHR provider – to 2011 – and then over the next five years a rollout of an interoperable healthcare provider desktop. Starting in 2013 it is also planned that remote e-consultation will begin.

Can I say that the whole plan has a total air of un-reality and fantastic (in the real sense) wishful thinking about it. Among the realities that need to be faced are the following:

Firstly the present Federal Government has had over a decade to consider a major investment of this sort on Health IT and has not done so – what has suddenly changed that a 2008 proposal would suddenly meet acceptance? The answer is not much. If Government changes at the end of the year then all bets would clearly be off ( and planning would start again most likely ) and if it does not I suspect the 2011 election would see change – and a long and detailed review would be inevitable. Timing thus seems less than optimal at best.

Secondly large scale top down complex IT projects – in mixed health sector funding environments – are likely to be very problematic. The only examples of success in such a strategy are Kaiser Permanente (and a couple of similar managed care entities in the US) and the UK NHS. Both of these projects have proved to be both quite expensive and very difficult to manage. The other successes at a national scale have been in countries like Denmark and the Netherland where a messaging based bottom up relatively simple, standards based and incremental strategy has been successful. The co-operative disseminated model adopted by Infoway in Canada also seems to be progressing reasonably well and is possibly the closest match to the Australian situation.

Thirdly no Government in their right mind would invest in a SEHR project of the type presently proposed without some very substantial pilot and trial implementations at considerable scale. At the very least an implementation of the scale of a smaller state (say South or Western Australia) would be required to provide a credible ‘proof of concept’. This pilot / trial would take at least two years to be planned, implemented and evaluated. Given the abysmal failure of the various HealthConnect pilots – and the consistent withholding from public review of any detailed evaluation reports – success in this pilot endeavour could hardly be guaranteed. To not conduct a rigorous pilot / trial would, of course, be the height of folly and exceptionally high risk. It is not clear where this is planned to be undertaken on the NEHTA timetable shown above.

Fourthly there is a major project risk which is in-escapable in projects of this type. That is the inevitable political interference that is seen with large public projects and the difficulty of preserving direction and focus over many years required to deliver satisfactory outcomes. It is hard to think of any major Federal Government computer systems which have met both financial and planed time-lines. An additional risk, which should not be minimised, is the technical and system integration risk. As anyone with experience of the Health IT field will confirm very often interoperable simply isn’t (despite the use of recognised Standards) and much work is needed to make it so!

Fifthly at present the scale of costs of such a project – extending over at least four to five years – is essentially unknowable until the pilot implementations are complete. Any business case prepared before such information is available is likely to be more wishful thinking than fact. Associated with this issue is the lack of clarity as to what would be invested in and who would be investing in what and who would be paying for what. It seems improbable that such a major infrastructural upgrade will be willingly paid for by the users – i.e. GPs, Specialists, Hospitals and Diagnostic Providers – without some major cost recovery mechanisms being in place that obviates their financial risk.

Sixthly there will be a problems with having Hospitals and GPs / Specialists / Diagnostics in the private sector (they have most of the information that is to be shared.) being co-ordinated and managed in terms of information flows, implementation timetables and investment levels by NEHTA / Government.

Seven, any Shared EHR will inevitably face the privacy, confidentiality and consent issues associated with projects of this type, where the is always lingering public doubt as to just who can access the shared records and what control the patient has over such sharing. A program to convince a sceptical public of the benefits of a project of this sort will be neither brief or cheap.

Eight, right now there is a total lack of a credible business case that actually explains what will be paid for and who will pay. It is all very well to assert that there will be vast benefits from clinical decision support and e-consultation but until all the assumptions regarding the technology(ies) and capabilities to be deployed, what information is shared and what remains on local systems, who will be the users of these new systems, how the transition will be funded and managed and how the required knowledge bases are acquired and maintained credibility is severely stained at best.

Nine, while a simple PowerPoint slide can illustrate the concept of a SEHR the length of time and the level of work required to have even the smallest amount of health information sharable across a national entity (e.g. the UK) shows this is an undertaking of very considerable complexity, which is underestimated at considerable peril. Remember the basic idea has been around in Australia since 2000 / 1 and real progress towards a working outcome has not been impressive to date.
Last it needs to be appreciated that the development of a transition plan to take Australia from a wide variety of partially linked disparate client systems to a reasonable number of certified high quality client systems with rich functionality all supplying appropriate standardised, reliable information to some central SEHR securely and privately will of itself be major and as yet unaddressed and unfunded task.

What should be done instead?

With adjustments to suit our local Commonwealth / State divide it seems to me a national strategy based on locally based health information sharing initiatives on a background of proven Standards and compliance certification has the highest probability of success – especially when combined with an appropriate benefits re-distribution strategy to ensure those who are meeting the costs are rewarded for their efforts.

We could learn from ONCHIT in the US and let three or four contracts to build demonstration systems based on established standards and take the best features of each to develop a scalable bottom up approach that could then be rolled out at relatively low risk. These would be project managed commercially and their outcomes fully evaluated in public.

I am also strongly persuaded of the truth of the argument that real benefits are predominantly derived from advanced (Level IV) system and that the key to real benefits lie in standardised basic information sharing between advanced client systems. Secondary data sharing also needs to be part of the mix to ensure public health and post marketing surveillance of medication side effects (as well as bioterrorism) are effectively addressed. A top down strategy is almost certain to fail in the Australian environment and we would be better to go down a path that involves the determination of client functionality required, development of appropriate certification processes and standards and have the private sector develop and support appropriate systems. There could also possibly with an initially government funded Open Source alternative that could be developed, supported and provided at low (but reasonable) cost and maintained as an exemplar of what is required. This strategy could provide an incentive for commercial system developers to ‘out develop’ the basic system to demonstrate the additional value provided by their offering.

The total funding of any national SEHR at the COAG meeting in 2008, based on the current plans, seems to me to be ‘courageous’ in the extreme. Cooler heads need to prevail and a strategy suitable for Australia in 2008 to 2018 and beyond needs to be developed free from the unsuitable large scale SEHR proposal that seems to currently be dominating NEHTA thinking.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NEHTA and ACSQH e-Health conference 20 March 2007

With Professor Liaw’s permission, I am posting some just written notes he developed following his participation in the meeting. They provide a useful summary of the views and concerns of some of the key actors in the e-health domain in Australia at present.



NEHTA and ACSQH e-Health conference 20 March 2007

Professor Teng Liaw
President, Australian College of Health Informatics

From the participant list, this was a clinician and consumer focused conference with representatives from a whole range of disciplines and professions. It was facilitated by Julie McCrossin who was quite consumer-centric and focused on achieving some results. She managed to get some discussion on how best to describe interoperability.

Ian Reinecke described NEHTA’s workplan (see NEHTA website). He pointed out that eHealth was moving too slowly and emphasized a need for a national approach. He saw NEHTA (Autralia) as a “fast follower” as opposed to an “early adopter”. He suggested that there is a rising tide in eHealth, driven by the clinical process and the clinical and consumer communities, which will lift all boats in the process.

Christine Jorm described the Australian Council on Safety and Quality in Healthcare (ACSQH) workplan (projects, education, open disclosure, accreditation) and the need to achieve KPIs within 4 years. She likened QI to the process of testing change; we all have 2 jobs – one to do our work and the other to improve it. She stressed the belief barriers to eHealth.

Julie McCrossin posed the question: Is the Privacy Law the problem?

Peter Sprivulis presented the benefits realization study into the (potential) benefits of national eHealth reform, using a systems dynamics approach and quality dimensions. The model appears to be well developed and potentially useful. However, the data underpinning the predictions appear to be US-centric and not based on Australian information systems or the Australian healthcare system. The other assumption that appears to be controversial is the web-based SEHR, which is still relatively untried and untested. My feeling is that this model will need the data from a few controlled implementations over the next few years to really test its validity.

Richard Eccles reported on the various Commonwealth activities with the PIP, BFH subsidies, NEHTA, supporting clinical practice and new ways of doing business e,g, the electronic signature. The Commonwealth’s next steps are to support and promote the NEHTA work, ePrescribing, standards development and the shared EHR. He stressed that the Commonwealth’s role is to build the national infrastructure and a supportive environment for eHealth. The role of the consumer is key and the health professional is encouraged to offer the patient access to the eHealth system. The industry is also encouraged to build standards-based eHealth systems. This presentation highlighted the theory-specification-implementation gap e.g. should the government build a standards-based reference implementation or should it prepare specifications and leave it to the industry a la the many versions of HL7.

Julie McCrossin facilitated a discussion on the relative merits of Google as a source of evidence and information. The optimum information source is a balance of breadth and depth of information. The other point to consider is what the pros and cons of a NEHTA-built SEHR or a Google-managed SEHR?

The Change Management Panel emphasized that Commonwealth funded incentives are important to the change management process, to encourage participation in eHealth initiatives. An example is the incentive to enter data into information systems. A health service reported that they have combined the library and health record department as a strategy to eliminate “silos”. A universal reporting system was mooted. The NSW HealthELink reported on its opt-out system (with a 30-days cooling off period) and that they are about to link 100 GPs. The NT HealthConnect project is still implementing the eDischarge summary. A long term view is important – for example, the current apparent success of the UK NHS has been the result of sustained efforts, some effective and some not, over the last 20 years.

The Consumers Health Forum did a skit to highlight that any health program, eHealth included, is all about communication. Not sure if it is aimed at the lack of open communication by NEHTA with their consumer and clinician stakeholders.

In the Next Steps Panel, I stressed (1) the implementation gap and the need for a well funded national implementation plan with support from the highest political levels; (2) the health component of the eHealth agenda – the need for well-trained and supported clinicians to implement the eHealth program; and (3) the need for built in evaluation to ensure that the eHealth programs actually improve health and health care.

In the “Reflection on the day”, the following points were highlighted:

• It is important to put technology in its place in health care
• The advantage of being a “fast follower”
• The need to apply best practice consistently
• CDSS is an important component of the eHealth agenda
• Change management is important
• The consumer is a key driver of eHealth adoption
• eHealth must enhance the consumers’ trust in their doctor
• Better information is essential
• We must discourage “work arounds”, even with regulation if indicated
• The health sector is very tribal

In summary, while the conference did not discuss anything new, it was an important effort to engage the consumer and clinical stakeholder groups. The most important outcome will be how some of the relevant issues raised will be followed up by the NEHTA and ACSQH specifically and the participants’ organisations generally.

Teng Liaw


I hope this summary will provide readers with a useful summary of current thinking at the NEHTA and ACSQH centre. I would be very interested in any comments those interested may have.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Useful Health IT Links from the Last Week

In the last week I have come across a few reports and news items which are worth passing on. These include:

First is the site established by HealthCareIT News to cover activities in the National Health Information Network (NHIN) Arena.

The site can be found at:


The site has an impressive range of coverage on the whole area and a lot of current news and resources. Among the areas covered are

• Federal Initiatives
• Privacy and Security
• The Business Case
• NHIN Architecture
• Voice and Data Networks
• Events

The site requires one time registration for access to a wide range of resources and interesting news including an RSS Feed.

The site describes itself as follows:

About NHINWatch.com

Brought to you by the editors of Healthcare IT News, NHINWatch.com is the most comprehensive Web site covering the creation of a Nationwide Health Information Network in the United States.

During his tenure as the first National Health Information Technology Coordinator, David J. Brailer, MD, made the development of a NHIN the centerpiece of his plans to bring American healthcare into the 21st century. Based on feedback received from the industry, Dr. Brailer described the network as an Internet-based data exchange that would allow medical providers to share health data to improve care.

But in 2006, Dr. Brailer resigned from his post with many decision about the NHIN yet to be made. Will it require a national database of patient records? Will every patient need a national identifier, or will a federated system of identity management based on existing demographic data and record locator services suffice? How will privacy be protected?

Every day, the editorial team from the industry's leading and most trusted news source, Healthcare IT News, scours the wires for the latest developments. If there's a story on the NHIN, you'll find it here.

To stay abreast of NHIN developments, please take a moment to register. As a registered user, you'll be able to browse the growing collection of news, resources and events here at NHINWatch.com. You can also subscribe to NHINWatch.com newsletters to have the latest news delivered directly to your inbox, and configure the NHINWatch.com site to present stories that best match your topical interests.”

The second item is a really good news story from e-Health Insider.


PACS roll-out milestone hit in London and the South

03 Apr 2007

All NHS hospital trusts across London and the South of England have now received systems to enable them to capture and store digital diagnostic images as part of the health service IT modernisation programme.

NHS Connecting for Health, the agency responsible for NHS IT, yesterday confirmed to E-Health insider that 56 digital picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) have now been installed in the past two years, covering all hospital trusts in the capital and South of England.

Prior to the NHS IT programme 18 trusts in the two regions had already put in PACS systems, taking the total number of installations to 74.


The full article can be read at the site. This is really good news and the reactions of the users of these system reported by e-Health Insider offer considerable hope for other aspects of the Connecting for Health Program in the UK.

The third item is a tale of unintended consequences.


CAD Mammograms Often Find Harmless Spots


The Associated Press

Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 10:56 PM

BOSTON -- A good mammogram reader may do just as well at spotting cancers without expensive new computer systems often used for a second opinion, a new study suggests. Computerized mammography, now used for about a third of the nation's mammograms, too often finds harmless spots that lead to false scares, researchers found. That conflicts with earlier studies showing benefit from the systems.”

It seems clear that while the technology to analyse mammograms is more sensitive than the simple careful visual inspection of the mammogram it also results in many more women needing invasive biopsies and so on – meaning much more worry and anxiety for many women and little, if any benefit. As the article puts it, summarising the New England Journal of Medicine report:

“The researchers in this five-year study _ backed by the federal government and the American Cancer Society _ analyzed mammograms from medical centers in Washington state, Colorado and New Hampshire. Seven of 43 centers used CAD. The mammograms came from 222,135 women and included 2,351 with a cancer diagnosis within a year of their tests.

The researchers found that with computerized mammography, a third more women were called back for suspicious findings and 20 percent more got biopsies than with ordinary mammograms. That might be a good thing, if enough cancers turned up to justify the minor surgeries and anxiety surrounding them.

Yet the computerized method showed no clear capability to turn up more cancer cases than unaided readings: Four cancers were found for every 1,000 mammograms, whatever screening method was used. That means that CAD would give 156 more unneeded callbacks and 14 more biopsies for every additional cancer it finds. And though these extra cancers tend to be early ones that are easier to treat, many would never be threatening anyway.”

The lesson here is that adoption of any technology without understanding the full impact it has on patient outcomes is always risky and that trials of technology need to assess the full impact on patient care – not just an improved number of cases located.

The last report this week is of very considerable concern:


Quality chasm still exists: study

By: Joseph Conn / HITS staff writer

Story posted: April 6, 2007 - 6:00 am EDT

The more things change, well, you know the rest, even without reading the Fourth Annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study released this week by hospital report-card compiler HealthGrades.

"I think the bottom line is the quality chasm still exists between the top and bottom hospitals on the 13 quality indicators we compare," said Samantha Collier, the physician senior vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer of the Golden, Colo.-based research company. "I think there is a significant gap, almost a 40% lower incident rate of these types of errors that we measured in the best performing hospitals to the lowest performing."


The observation of a 40% difference in error rates makes it absolutely clear some hospitals are not trying hard enough. The impact of this being addressed:

“If all hospitals performed at the level of the top 15% in the study, which HealthGrades deems to be "Distinguished Hospitals for Patient Safety," there would have been 206,286 fewer patient safety incidents to Medicare patients, 34,393 fewer deaths and an estimated $1.74 billion would have been saved, according to Collier.”


It would be good if statistics of the sort produced by HealthGrades were available in Australia so the debate on how to fix our hospitals could begin.

The full report can be read here:


A sobering read, as is the very good summary article I have quoted from.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The 2007 AusHealthIT Blog “Looney Health IT Awards”

In the Spirit of April Fool's Day for 2007 the AusHealthIT blog felt it would be useful to award the “Blog Looney Health IT Awards” or BLHITAs – pronounced Blights (as in “Blight on the Landscape”)

Please hand over the envelopes, and to a drum roll, we announce the following awards:

The Grand Blight for 2007 goes to the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) – for managing to totally lose control of the National E-Health Agenda and for failing to ensure Australia has a National E-Health Strategy that the overall health system understands and supports.

The State Blight Award was shared in 2007 between NSW and South Australia. NSW earned its award for failing to recognise the importance of ensuring proper privacy standards in an e-Health Implementation (HealtheLink). South Australia achieved its award for its 'back to front' approach to system procurement where it plans to issue a tender for a Care Planning System before having even an interim evaluation of a Pilot Project.

The Stealth Blight Award for excessive discretion and information retention in the e-Health Domain is shared between DoHA and NEHTA. They both appear obsessed with unnecessary confidentiality / secrecy. DoHA wins the award for re-constituting the Australian Health Information Council without letting the public know. Even after two meetings those interested in these matters do not know who its members are, what they are doing and what their terms of reference are. NEHTA wins for its continuing use of stealth committees and consultants to provide it with advice rather than using the more traditional consultative processes when issues are of significant public interest and deserve transparent handling. DoHA also get a second dishonourable mention for its failure to report on the evaluation outcomes of the Eastern Goldfields Broadband Trial in Western Australia. A lot of public money went into that trial – and what do we hear of the outcomes – zip!

The “Can't See the Wood for the Trees” Blight is awarded to NEHTA for planning to allocate citizens a health identifier based on numbers allocated by Medicare Australia (which is part of the Department of Human Services) instead of using the identifier provided by the Access Card Division of the same department which is doing much the same thing. Worse, NEHTA claims the two projects don't intersect even though the major role of the Access Card is to replace the Medicare Card.

The “Creative Denial of Reality” Blight is awarded to DoHA for continuing to pretend there is any life in – or plans to seriously invest in – HealthConnect. SA Health are runner up for never explaining – when asked on the blog in public - how the security controls on their OACIS systems provide the level of security granularity and control most South Australians would expect.

The “Exaggeration of Importance of Influence” Blight is awarded to NEHTA for seemingly imagining it has the same level of influence (and is delivering as effectively) on the global E-Health stage as The US ONCHIT, The UK Connecting for Health Program and Canada's Health Infoway. The decision for HL7 last week – following the US, UK, Canada, Holland and Denmark makes it perfectly we are peripheral at best – and the delay in decision making confirms us as a ‘slow follower’ not a ‘fast follower’ as some have misguidedly claimed.

The “Tolerance in the Face of Extreme Provocation” Blight (or maybe it is an Anti-Blight) is awarded to the members of all the IT-14 Committees of Standards Australia for continuing to contribute despite a considerable level of side-lining, rail-roading and provocation by all sorts of external forces.

The “Failure to Grasp The Place of Health IT in the Health Sector” Blight goes to the proponents of Shared EHRs for attempting to progress projects of this type without continuing an in-depth public consultation with the total Australian Health Sector especially around the issues of privacy, consent, decision support and the location of functionality. This dooms them to failure I believe.

The “Silliest E-Health Presentation of the Year” Blight goes to NEHTA for suggesting there is $50+ Billion in benefits in health IT available without laying out what will be invested in to harvest these benefits and who will pay. Without a clear presentation of all the assumptions underlying these “models” it is just fantasy. It all may be true the case for major investment in Health IT is true (indeed I believe it is) – but how can anyone know without all the information? To publish half complete material like this just damages the credibility of those who work in the field in the eyes of the economic 'hard heads', who will not invest unless the full case is presented and is compelling.

The “Most Prolonged Gestation of an e-Health Concept” Blight is awarded to the proponents of the concept of archetypes for failing to explain, despite repeated requests from those who are somewhat sceptical, just how archetypes will be sustainably managed through their various versions, multiple iterations and inevitably large numbers over time. Just how the required infrastructure will be developed, funded, governed and supported into the future must be explained before archetype based systems can evolve beyond being a R & D projects and implementation of very limited scope – albeit very interesting ones.

The “Life is Cheap” Blight for failure to appreciate the need to urgently move on deployment of proven technology is awarded to all those who see progress in this area as a job rather than a passion and feel unnecessary deaths and suffering is not their problem. This Blight is shared with the Western Australian Health Department which also appears to have a very relaxed time-line in proceeding with updating the (presently quite limited) Health IT in that State.

All in all a sad list. I hope it might be better next April. All the points raised here can and should be addressed by those responsible and none are ‘rocket science’. I wonder what progress we might see.

For the sake of balance I am currently developing a list of awards for Health IT Stars (HITS). HITS will be awarded for exceptional contributions and efforts in a positive direction in e-Health. Nominations are welcome either as a comment or by e-mail. Please let me know about anything you know that seems to be useful, valuable and making a difference. I hope we can find a reasonable list.


NEHTA – What is the Status of All These Specifications?

In a very recent press release from NEHTA there is the following:


NEHTA sets direction for electronic messaging in health

NEHTA confirms Health Level 7 as the national standard for the electronic messaging of health information across Australia.”

This set me to wonder, just where does NEHTA derive its authority to reach such conclusions? It is neither a government entity nor is it actually funded to make any product procurements which would seem to be the point at which what NEHTA wants and what the market has to offer intersect.

NEHTA's position would appear to be stated in the following terms (From the National E-Health Standards Development A Management Framework Version 1.0 – 15/03/2006):

3.3 Compliance

NEHTA's role includes the development of specifications for inclusion in Government and potentially other health sector procurement processes. These specifications will be technical in nature, normative, and incorporated into commercial contracts.

On their own, standards or technical specifications have no legal status and are free to be followed or not by manufacturers, consumers or the public. However, if a Standard or specification is referenced in legislation, or written into a commercial contract, it becomes enforceable by virtue of that legislation or contract. When this happens, Standards become mandatory and their reasonableness, quality and impact can be subject to the scrutiny of the courts. Accordingly, standards development organisations make every attempt to ensure that the principles and processes used to develop standards are based on good practice.

In respect of “specifications” such as those produced by NEHTA, the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement states that:

“Technical specifications prescribed by procuring entities shall, where appropriate:

(a) be in terms of performance rather than design or descriptive characteristics; and

(b) be based on international standards, where such exist; otherwise, on national technical regulations, recognized national standards, or building codes.”

Further to this the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recently committed to: “promoting compliance with nationally-agreed standards in future government procurements related to electronic health systems and in areas of healthcare receiving government funding.”

While not being a lawyer, this seems pretty clear to me. The key points are:

1. Standards and specifications only become enforceable if they are either legislated or become part of a commercial contract.

2. If they become part of legislation or a commercial contract they are testable by the courts for their “reasonableness, quality and impact”.

3. To be valid they must be developed by appropriate processes.

4. They should be performance based (i.e. lead to an outcome if adopted – e.g. a level of fire resistance of material which if used will save life or property or with e-health, for example, be demonstrably workable and able to be implemented)

5. Be based on international standards unless there are compelling gaps in what is available internationally which need to be filled.

Most important, it seems to me, is the quality and depth of the development processes.

Standards Australia summarises the process needs very succinctly.


Cardinal Principles of Australian Standardisation

Any affected or interested representative organisation has the opportunity to participate.

The committee shall be balanced and not dominated by any single interest category or organisation.

Due Process
All valid objections shall have an attempt made towards achieving resolutions.

More than a majority but not necessarily unanimity.”

Standards Australia also succinctly summarises the legal status of their work as they see it:


The legal status of Australian Standards®

Standards Australia is an independent organisation and our Standards are not legal documents. However, because of their convenience and the willingness of all parties to adopt them, many of the documents are called up in Federal or State legislation, with the result that they then become mandatory. Currently about 2400 of our Standards are mandatory, however most are used voluntarily by people who value their expertise and commonsense. They are practical and don't set impossible goals. They are based on sound industrial and scientific experience. And, because they are regularly revised, they keep pace with new technologies.”

It is interesting that much of the spirit of this is captured in the NEHTA Standards Development Framework document. However, I think there are many who think NEHTA's compliance with the requirements for openness, balance, due process and consensus is yet to be seen.

Equally the comments from Standards Australia on the need for practicality and the use of experience seem highly appropriate – and these have yet to really be taken to heart by NEHTA.

It is also interesting that after operating for over two years NEHTA finally perceived that it needed a formal documented relationship with Standards Australia on February 9 this year. See


I also find it fascinating that as of February 2, 2007 NEHTA can say – in the description of the document entitled “Supporting National E-Health Standards Implementation v1.0” the following.

“The consistent implementation of health informatics standards is critical to achieving an information technology enabled health sector within Australia. The structure of the health system in Australia is diverse and dynamic, which does not readily support standards implementation. To achieve the e-health goals for Australia it is necessary to address the current challenges associated with standards implementation.

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to those in the health sector responsible for improving care delivery through information technology by identifying some of the challenges to health informatics standards implementation; defining adoption, uptake and implementation; and clarifying the strategies and activities that will assist in resolving the challenges. A framework to support successful standards implementation is also described.

This document completes the development of NEHTA's National E-Health Standards Plan.”

What is being said here, as I read it is:

1. This is all very hard (or, we think we need help, but who can help us?)

2. Someone – i.e. you out there - have to address the challenges it poses (or, we can only tell you what to do but you have to do it and make it work)

3. Here is a document to tell you how – with such memorable quotes as “The onset of e-health breeds confusion due to fear, uncertainty and doubt.[5]” – Page 6. (or, is it any wonder we are confused?)

4. We have done all we can – so over to you (or, we hope we’ve helped, good luck in your future endeavours).

Surely something as basic as a Standards Plan needs to be a living, developing, learning document – not a fait accompli.

That many in the Health IT industry are only reading NEHTA's documents “when there is nothing more useful to do” seems a valid approach to be adopting until the NEHTA processes move to a more appropriate level of consensus creation, communication and consultation.

It seems to me NEHTA has to do a much better job of explaining to the Health IT community the value and usefulness of their efforts for them to have much real impact and that pretending (with the words quoted in the compliance area above) they have legal enforceability on their side is probably little more than a rather pathetic bluff.

NEHTA does not have legislated authority and their specifications and recommendations are not the product of a recognisable standards creation process as they are traditionally undertaken.

For NEHTA to ever be really relevant a lot needs to change – and soon.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Interesting Newly Found e-Health Related Sites

A colleague has provided the following suggested site for all those interested in the use of Systems Methodologies to come to grips with the complexities of Health Service Delivery in the real world.

National Institutes for Health: Systems Methodologies for Solving Real-World Problems: Applications in Public Health Presented by: Patty Mabry, Ph.D., Bobby Milstein, Ph.D., M.P.H., John Sterman, Ph.D. and Ken McLeroy, Ph.D., Washington, March 2007

The Videocast is Described as follows:

“The first in a series of four educational seminars featuring leaders in various areas of systems science. The purposes are to raise awareness of particularly promising methodologies; and improve our collective understanding about how and when they may be used effectively by behavioural and social scientists (including researchers, policy analysts, planners/evaluators, grant reviewers, journal editors and government officials).

This first symposium provides an introduction to, and overview of, the rest of the series. The core principles of system-oriented inquiry will be described, while briefly surveying a variety of methodological traditions and emerging directions in the field. John Sterman (Director, System Dynamics Group at MIT) will share his view of the field followed by Ken McLeroy (Associate Dean at Texas A&M and Department Editor for AJPH), who will explore further implications and assess the prospects for incorporating systems methodologies more fully into routine public health work.

This is important material from some of the global experts in the field!

It is a large download – some 780 Megabytes – so be warned!

If interested in the area go to:


The following also seems to be very useful.

Learning from Mistakes

No news is said to be good news. For Scot Silverstein, M.D., however, lack of information is a symptom of a major industry problem. In 1998, Silverstein launched a Web site devoted to shining light on healthcare IT failures. Hospital leaders, IT vendors and the media have swept the topic under the rug, he says. “IT failure is a serious problem, but people are reluctant to study it,” says Silverstein, the director of the Philadelphia-based Institute for Healthcare Informatics at Drexel University College of Information Science and Technology. “We like to talk about success, not failure.”

According to Silverstein, the healthcare industry is plagued by projects that do not live up their potential—or in some cases, are scrapped altogether. His observations are drawn from several years of experience working at large health systems, where clinical documentation projects involving IT stalled due to mismanagement. In 1998, Silverstein launched the site, hoping to gather case studies from others in the field.


The site is: www.ischool.Drexel.edu/faculty/ssilverstein/medinfo.htm

—Gary Baldwin

The full article can be found at:


Additionally – also important is this:

Proof of Impact: New Study Sheds Light on Economics of Health IT Investment

by Colleen Egan, iHealthBeat Editor

March 30, 2007

While many in the health care industry say that investment in IT leads to better quality and performance, there is a dearth of solid evidence to support that claim. A new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers aims to "retire the question of whether IT has a positive impact on hospital business performance."

The report, titled "The Economics of IT and Hospital Performance," used "econometric" techniques to study the relationship between IT adoption and organizational performance at nearly 2,000 U.S. hospitals over a five-year period. Researchers -- who used sources such as the Solucient ProviderView database and the American Hospital Association's Annual Survey Database -- collected three types of data:

• Hospital services and facilities utilization;
• Health IT investment; and
• Hospital operating costs.


The full article can be found at:



Six tips for surefire EHR implementation success

Electronic Health Records Briefing, Mar. 27, 2007

Joel N. Diamond, MD, implemented an inpatient EHR, including 100 percent adoption of computerized physician order entry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center St. Margaret Memorial Hospital. This was one of the first successful community hospital installations in the United States.

Before launching CPOE in September 2004, Diamond went on a one-year campaign among St. Margaret’s 300 private physicians to promote acceptance of CPOE and identify those who resisted it. Because of this, the hospital launched the system two weeks ahead of schedule and now enjoys full participation by the medical staff. During the January 24 HealthLeaders Media (a division of HCPro, Inc.) Webcast “Bringing the Digital Hospital to Life: Expert advice and real-world lessons,” Diamond offered the following six tips for successful implementation:


Again the full article can be found at: