Wednesday, November 21, 2018
I Have To Wonder Just What Is Going On Here? It Does Not Feel Quite Right.
This appeared last week:
15 November 2018 — 12:00am
The chairman of the agency responsible for the bungled My Health Record rollout has been privately advising a global healthcare outsourcing company.
The Herald discovered the relationship between the UK based government contracting giant Serco and the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) chairman Jim Birch after obtaining internal documents that detail the board members' conflicts of interest.
The revelation comes as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was forced to extend the My Health Record opt out period after a compromise deal with the Senate crossbench and a last minute meltdown of the website left thousands of Australians struggling to meet the original deadline.
Since April 2016, Mr Birch has been ADHA chairman with oversight of the My Health Record system, which will automatically generate digital medical records for millions of Australians who do not opt out by the end of January.
The ADHA board's "Personal Interests Disclosures Register", released under Freedom of Information laws, shows Mr Birch began "providing strategy advice to Serco" in November 2017. The register is not publicly available.
After the Herald submitted questions last week on whether the relationship posed a conflict of interest, Mr Birch quit the advisory role.
Serco has won a number of multi-billion dollar government contracts to privately run - and in some cases deliver healthcare in - some of Australia's prisons, hospitals and detention centres.
The ability of Serco to navigate the controversial area of digital health records would be invaluable to any future expansion plans, given its "global healthcare strategy".
A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said all 10 board members had declared their interests.
"Board members do not have access to system operations and board members cannot be present while a matter is being considered at a board meeting in which the member has an interest," she said.
Lisa Parker, a public health ethics expert at University of Sydney, said the public had been asked to trust that the agency is acting in its best interests. She said it should make public any information relevant to that trust.
"Some members of the public may select not to place their trust in board members who they perceive to have conflicts of interest," Dr Parker said.
"This does not mean that transparency is wrong, rather it means that allowing associations that give rise to real or perceived conflicts of interest threatens the viability of the potentially important resource that is the My Health Record."
The register also shows Mr Birch knows the chief executive of health-tech startup Personify Care, Ken Saman, and has been giving him advice since August last year.
The software company recently released "Personify Connect", a product that provides hospitals with "seamless integration" of its original patient monitoring platform with My Health Record.
November 15th is the opt-out date for My Health Record, but exactly what does this data system mean for Australians?
Despite being scheduled to speak at a "Personify Care breakfast seminar" later this year, Mr Birch has never publicly declared this potential competing interest.
Mr Birch is also chairman of another startup called Clevertar that allows businesses to create "virtual agents" and offer "personalised healthcare support, delivered at scale". This relationship is on the public record.
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The first thing to be said it that one can be pretty confident the facts provided are correct as a story of this potential impact would have been “legalled” to within an inch of its life before seeing the light of the SMH website.
That said it does seem to me the ADHA Chair should not be offering private advice to Digital Health startups. Speaking at open conferences is one thing but providing one-on-one advice ought not be happening I believe.
This feeling is amplified by the secretive way the ADHA goes about it business – the latest, very partial minutes that have been published now being 4+ months old. (Mid. June, 2018)
Disclosure of interests are also not easy to find as noted in the article, and they are sure not obvious as they should be.
This looks like the section covering disclosure in Commonwealth Agencies.
Lastly it is hard to imagine just how much worse the Board’s stewardship of Digital Health could have been. In my mind they have led the myHR program appallingly. Most would agree I believe. The Chair needs to be held accountable for this as well.
All in all I believe there is no reason to believe he, and many with him, have not reached their use-by dates.
Posted by Dr David G More MB PhD at Wednesday, November 21, 2018