Recurrent case of mushroom syndrome

In what is an unusually quiet period for the normally super-active eHealth sector, our top story this week turned out to be the fortnight-old news that the draft of the long-promised national digital health strategy would be on the agenda of the COAG Health Council when it meets next month.

We first heard about this on July 4, although to be honest it's not a secret. Having been delayed repeatedly since 2013 and rewritten a couple of times, the strategy was next scheduled for November 2016 but was delayed yet again until the newly appointed Australian Digital Health Agency CEO could put his mark on it.

So we did the right thing when we heard an ADHA executive tell a vendors' conference in Sydney two weeks ago that the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council (AHMAC) had endorsed the draft plan and it was hoped COAG would too. We approached ADHA to confirm that this statement was correct, just to be sure.

As they say on the interwebs, crickets. We were initially told that ADHA was too busy to answer our questions and then that the situation was tricky because AHMAC was involved, so we said we'd take ourselves off to the Department of Health and ask them instead. ADHA encouraged us not to, so of course we did it anyway, and here we are, adrift in a whole field of crickets, with DoH not even answering the phone let alone returning our calls.

Whether the digital health strategy really matters that much is up for debate. These sorts of documents normally just turn out like those horrible mission and vision statements regularly trotted out by corporate HR departments that have nothing better to do, although they are often a nice little earner for the consulting firms that usually write them. What does matter is that we are getting this strange feeling best known as mushroom syndrome, in which we suspect we are being kept in the dark and fed something unpalatable.

We've been experiencing a recurrent dose of this syndrome recently. One of our most popular stories of the last couple of months was our report on Queensland Health's plan to open up access to hospital patient records to GPs, which we discovered had gone live. Could we get a few more details on this, like how many GPs had signed up and what the expected volume of views will be? No, the normally super-helpful Queensland Health said. You may not.

eHealth NSW is generally unresponsive but it's Victoria's DHHS that takes the cake. We've been asking for nigh on two years for an update on its real-time prescription monitoring project, which not only underwent a year of research and planning but received a $30 million go-ahead in the 2016 state budget. Despite repeated attempts to get more information, we're getting nothing.

We even had the PR flack at one publicly funded eHealth service organisation tell us that there was no news to report (and when we insisted on interviewing someone with technical knowledge, a media minder invited themselves to sit in). And we had yet another tell us, half-jokingly we hope, that media organisations should pay to ask questions of government agencies.

This sort of arrogance does not bode well for the transparency of decision making in the public health system, especially when our public officials can't even respond to simple inquiries such as confirming that something is true or not. In light of recent events like the Medicare number breach, surely you would want the public to retain as much confidence in the government's handling of the healthcare system as possible.

This brings us to our poll question for this week: Is decision making in eHealth transparent enough? Sign up for our weekend edition and vote in our poll, or comment below.

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