Quote Of The Year

Quote Of The Year - Paul Shetler - "Its not Your Health Record it's a Government Record Of Your Health Information"

Monday, May 07, 2007

Here We Go Again!

The following statement was issued by the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) last week.

“Conversation: STATEMENT on the NEHTA Review

Subject: STATEMENT on the NEHTA Review

For more information:

Gabrielle Lloyde


gabrielle.lloyde –at- nehta.gov.au

0408 170001


Friday, May 04, 2007

The Directors of the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) wish to advise that they are seeking to complete an independent review of NEHTA as required under NEHTA¹s constitution.

NEHTA Ltd was established in July 2005 and funded jointly by all federal, state and territory governments for a three-year period to accelerate e-health in Australia. NEHTA¹s constitution requires Directors to commission an independent review of NEHTA¹s future direction two years after the company¹s formation.

The review will address the effectiveness of NEHTA in meeting its objects, as set down in the constitution, including whether these objects remain valid and appropriate.

To this end NEHTA will be engaging, via open tender, a suitably qualified professional services firm to undertake the review. The selected firm will gather information on all aspects of NEHTA¹s operations, including information obtained from:

• NEHTA and its Directors;
• Jurisdictions;
• Key stakeholders; and
• Independent research.

In addition, the review will consider the future direction for e-health reform and appropriate vehicle(s) to deliver the future directions. The review is required to be finalised by October 2007.

The findings of the review will be provided to the Directors in the first instance. A General Meeting of Members of NEHTA LTD will be called within two months of the review being completed to consider the findings.



The National E-Health Transition Authority Limited is a not-for-profit company established by the Australian Commonwealth, State and Territory governments on July 5th, 2005. It aims to develop better ways of electronically collecting and securely exchanging health information, to:

* Improve the quality of healthcare services, allowing clinicians to more easily access accurate and complete information about their patients

* Streamline the care of people with long term illness, who need to be looked after by many different health professionals, by enabling seamless handovers of care through for example electronic referrals and discharge summaries.

* Improve clinical and administrative efficiency, by standardising certain types of healthcare information to be recorded in electronic systems; uniquely identifying patients, healthcare providers and medical products; and reforming the purchasing process for medical products.

while maintaining high standards of patient privacy and information security.

NEHTA¹s Board of Directors is composed of the heads of all nine government health departments. In effect, this means that the national health care system owns NEHTA and its decisions.

Gabrielle Lloyde

Communications Manager

nehta National E-Health Transition Authority

Tel 61 2 8298 2620

Mobile 040 817 0001

E-mail gabrielle.lloyde – at-nehta.gov.au

Web www.nehta.gov.au”

There are a few comments that need to be made about this release.

First let us consider what the NEHTA review is meant to ascertain.

Excerpt from Constitution:


41.1 The Meeting of Directors will facilitate an independent review of the Company in the first Month of the third year from the time of this Constitution being adopted to assess whether it has met its objectives and should continue in operation.

41.2 The Members will assess the review procured under clause 41.1. The Directors must call a General Meeting within 2 months of the completion of the review and (whether in person, by representative or by proxy) the Members present and eligible to vote may pass a resolution to wind up the Company by a 75% majority or determine the basis on which the Company will proceed.”

So the press release somewhat diminishes the importance of this review. This is an existential review to decide of NEHTA has met its objectives – and if so, how the work is to be continued and if not what new approach and plan will be adopted.

So just what are the objectives of NEHTA constitutionally?

Excerpt from Constitution:


The objects of the Company are any or all of the following:

3.1 To provide the critical standards and provide and manage the development of infrastructure, software and systems required to support connectivity and interoperability of electronic health information systems across Australia;

3.2 To research, develop and implement national health information projects including (but not limited to):

3.2.1. clinical data standards and terminologies including the development of standards and common terminologies for health information for clinical service delivery, planning, policy making and research purposes and communication between health systems in Australia;

3.2.2 patient, provider and product / service standards and directories / indexes that contain information necessary to uniquely identify patients, providers, products and services and other relevant information across the whole of the health sector in Australia;

3.2.3 identification standards to define the data structure and specification for capture and storage of information required or (sic) the identification of patient, provider and products / services in Australia;

3.2.4 a product services directory which contains information for identification of products and services;

3.2.5 consent models governing collection and handling of electronic health information;

3.2.6 EHR standards;

3.2.7 technical integration standards to define the structure and rules by which information is exchanged between systems and users;

3.2.8 supply chain efficiencies, including exploring options such as common forms of procurement, standard contracts and common purchasing processes;

3.2.9 user authentication and access controls to ensure compliance with privacy laws and the consent models which have been developed;

3.2.10 EHR secure messaging and information transfer including identifying and managing the development of a national security model for messaging and information transfer between healthcare providers’ systems;

3.2.11 a knowledge centre, providing knowledge-sharing and expert advice to the public and private sectors on business case development and implementation requirements for health information systems so as to meet national standards and architectures;

3.2.12 to encourage health information industry reform and to facilitate opportunities in driving technological reform in health information technology, so enabling consistent interoperability and implementation of national health information technology priorities; and

3.3 Any additional object with 100% of Members determine should be included in this Constitution at a General Meeting.”

A careful review of this set of objectives leaves on with the sense that the drafters expected substantial progress to be evident when the review is undertaken – noting that NEHTA was actually commenced in July / August 2004 and had its CEO appointed in November / December 2004 – giving the period to be assessed a length of 30 months at least.

My assessment of where NEHTA is currently at is as follows:

1. Thus far I cannot see a single life saved or a single dollar saved as a result of NEHTA’s exertions. I can however see the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars.

2. NEHTA has done some research but essentially has failed to develop or implement anything tangible.

3. It seems clear the Federal Government recognises that the decision to hand e-Health to NEHTA to solve the problem has been, at least, a partial failure – given the recent resurrection of the Australian Health Information Council (AHIC) by the Commonwealth Health Department. The alternate explanation that AHIC has been resurrected because NEHTA’s work is almost done and the next steps need to be planned – i.e. the post finalisation of e-Health Standards phase has arrived in Australia– is so crazy as to be laughable!

4. NEHTA is essentially unknown to the Health Sector at large and is seen as essentially irrelevant by most of the Health IT industry as they have yet to provide any additional value to that already delivered via Standards Australia.

5. NEHTA Compliance is treated as a joke essentially, even by Member governments, – see the various initiatives funded out of HealthConnect for all the evidence you need.

6. NEHTA continues to deny its need for a strategic view to guide its actions and preserve coherence.

7. The imminence of the review has resulted in a flurry of releases of half done and half thought out draft work to try and demonstrate value – which is clearly lacking.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine their view as to how well NEHTA has met its Constitutional objectives, and how closely what is now says it is doing matches with what it was meant to do.

Sadly, we all know what comes next.

The independent review will be undertaken as a ‘commercial-in-confidence’ engagement by a tame and friendly professional services firm in private, the NEHTA Board will receive the report they want, to avoid any possible criticism, and the report will disappear and never be made public. Some time, probably just before an October 2007 election, NEHTA will issue a one page press release to say it has been independently reviewed, needs to change one or two small elements of its plan but otherwise all is well. Note the Constitution does not seem to require regular further reviews – so that is that – and we have NEHTA forever!

See how close I get to what actually happens over the next six months.

At the very least the review needs to be commissioned by, funded by, and reported to the Commonwealth Department of Health and then made fully public. It also needs to ask for public commentary and submissions on a final draft. Having NEHTA commission the review itself, and then to have its officers manage the review, is a “putting the fox in charge of the henhouse situation” in spades! NEHTA Officers are clearly in a situation of major conflict of interest, after all, the review is meant to determine if NEHTA should continue to exist or not . To not fully separate the reviewers and the reviewed, as seems to be proposed, is just a farce!



Chris said...

Good observation David. It does lack accountability any way you point a stick at it.

As I'm developing clinical software (for private practice though) with a GP who's a mate of mine, I'm starting to read around and understand the industry of e-health I'm involved in.

I noted an interesting observation as I was reading the NEHTA annual report (05-06) yesterday. I noticed a whole page was dedicated to the fact that they've increased employee numbers from ~5 to 55 within a year. Talk about bureaucracy in action!

Anonymous said...

As you know there is little or no transparency into what goes on inside NEHTA. David has been grumbling about this for a long time - and well he might.

I think an independent audit would show that the number of employees and contractors is closer to (or possibly even > than) 100!

Now that gives real meaning to your comment "Talk about bureaucracy in action!"