Digital health is neither penicillin nor panacea

Pulse+IT visited the University of NSW to hear from some of digital health's luminaries on Wednesday, mingling with a gathering of the usual suspects from Australia, as well as numerous international speakers at the inaugural International Digital Health Symposium.

The symposium, organised by the George Institute for Global Health and the Australian Digital Health Agency, followed a two-day talkfest in Canberra on Monday and Tuesday to celebrate the Global Digital Health Partnership, which ADHA hopes will become very important in the digital health scheme of things.

The partnership is an “opportunity for deep, transformational engagement”, ADHA says, which sounds very nice. It “will help deliver actionable policy and program outcomes to both domestic and international agendas”, which sounds even better. We're particularly keen on the transformational and actionable aspects, being life-long fans of less talk and more action.

Things didn't augur too well early on, though. We openly admit to a tendency to launch into Olympic-class eye-rolling when the hyperbole on eHealth gets too heavy, so when Health Minister Greg Hunt was quoted in an ADHA press release on Tuesday saying that “digital health is the penicillin of our time”, we found ourselves looking at the back of our skulls and had to have a Dramamine and a bit of a lie down.

Once we recovered and had another look at the press release, we saw there were some hopes for more than just all talk and no action. The partnership aims to collaborate in five different areas: connected and interoperable healthcare, cyber security, policies that support digital health outcomes, clinician and consumer engagement, and evidence and evaluation of digital health. Personally, we'd like to see a little more of the latter before awarding the Nobel prize.

Other assorted bigwigs were in the news this week as well and proved to be of great interest to readers. We discovered the whereabouts of former NT Health CIO Stephen Moo, who is now attached to Jeff Parker's firm JP Consulting and may be involved in the Northern Territory's massive clinical systems replacement project, which Mr Moo was the driving force behind. Mr Moo left NT Health abruptly in unexplained circumstances last September, and despite our efforts we haven't yet managed to find out why.

Victoria has scored itself a new chief digital health officer in the form of Neville Board, who is very well known a bit further north through his gig handling eHealth at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care in Sydney. A clinician with experience in both eHealth policy and practice, Mr Board is heading to Melbourne to take over from Paul Cooper, who in turn took over from Andrew Saunders, who also left in unexplained circumstances in September last year. Readers are most welcome to leave us an anonymous tip if you are able to shed any light on what caused this.

But the most popular news of the week was yet again Telstra Health and what it's getting up to. We've grumbled before about how Telstra Health's contribution to the parent company is so small it doesn't have to be recorded on Telstra's balance sheet, but we did notice in its half-year financial results this week a wee mention that Telstra had sold its 30 per cent share in IP Health, which was one of its first ventures into the health sector back in 2013. While some thought this presaged the wider sell-off of Telstra Health's assorted parts, we are assured by IP Health's Ian Gillies that it was all amicable and both are better off going their separate ways.

Speaking of Telstra Health, you'll remember that we put up a poll last week asking a very impertinent question about its reputation following the ongoing dramas with the cancer screening register project. It didn't go too well for Team Telstra, we're afraid. We asked: Has the NCSR saga damaged Telstra Health's reputation irreparably? As we've said before, it's all about the optics: 71 per cent said yes, with 29 per cent saying no.

That brings us to our poll question for this week: Do you think the Global Digital Health Partnership will bear fruit for Australia?

To vote in our weekly polls, sign up for our weekend edition or leave your comments below.

In our Pulse+IT Weekend Edition email, we spelled Paul Cooper's name incorrectly. Apologies. Too much Dramamine.

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