Action stations at the agency

We decided to take a bit of a squizz at the goings on over at the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) this week amid a flurry of activity that seems to be emanating these days from Pitt St. We'd been thinking they had a pretty quiet start to the year and were ready to go nosying about, but it turns out that they'd all been busy little bees, what with organising the recent international gabfest and putting the final touches on an absolutely ginormous program of work for the coming years.

We described it in our story this week as putting some meat on the bones of the seven priorities outlined in the National Digital Health Strategy, but if you take a look at what the draft Framework for Action actually entails, it's a hefty enough slab that will keep ADHA's 250 or so staff eating barbecue for the next four years.

We hear chief operating officer Bettina McMahon and general manager of strategy Kim Webber and their teams have been responsible for putting the framework together, wrangling the jurisdictions and peak bodies into general agreement on what was achievable, and we think they've done a pretty good job.

The framework is highly ambitious to be sure – one wag did a Kerrigan and asked us to “Tell 'em they're dreamin'” – but if even half of what is listed can be partially implemented in four years, it'll be something. The draft includes lots of national plans – a national provider addressing service, a national interoperability strategy, a national health technology strategy, a digital health services endorsement framework, a national medicines data service, a national allergy strategy, an innovation showcase, a health innovation exchange – and a lot rides on partnerships with other sectors, such as the strategy for workforce and education.

But if ADHA can knock over secure messaging, the national interoperability strategy and the My Health Record expansion this year, put some runs on the board in the various test beds and the innovation agenda next year and have something to show in tough areas like medicines safety in the next three or four, then they'll be doing well. Some areas are a bit nebulous, like 'advocacy for innovation and digital inclusion', so that could be junked, and others such as 'developing a new user friendly list of evidence-based digital health apps' are not even needed as there's one already available.

Then perhaps there will be time enough for the longer term aspirations, such as work on end-of-life care and residential aged care, and the children’s health record. We reported briefly on that last week and we thought it an excellent idea, and this week we spoke to the clinical lead for the project, Sydney Children’s Hospital Network CEO Michael Brydon. We'll bring you that story next week, but suffice it to say Dr Brydon was very keen on exploring what will be a quite remarkable resource in the future. It was Dr Brydon, a practising paediatrician, who insisted that one of the main objectives of the project be to explore how digital technology can help make Australia the best place in the world to raise healthy kids.

We think that's something to aspire to, and it seems that the states and territories are keen on it too. While the Digital Health Agency will be guiding the overall framework for action, the jurisdictions are where it's all going to happen, so we're pleased to see them all on board. Rather than the remote eyrie on Pitt St formerly inhabited by NEHTA, the ADHA office seems to be sharing the nest with the states and territories on some of these projects, and that should be applauded.

It could all go pear-shaped of course and on some initiatives it most likely will, but we'll keep giving ADHA the benefit of the doubt for the time being. We would like to see the promised draft strategy for interoperability sooner rather than later and an update on the secure messaging trials wouldn't go amiss either. And as we gear up for the momentous move to opt-out, we'll be asking a few hard questions on behalf of our readers. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we'll have some answers for you.

We'd also like to know about cost. We know how much the PCEHR/MyHR has cost since 2010 – a conservative estimate of $1.6 billion – and the system will need a top-up in 2020, but how to account for all of these other activities we don't know. A fresh cost-benefit analysis would be nice.

The draft framework for action is open for industry debate and submissions for the next month, so whether you think it's a winner or a waste, let the agency know about it.

That brings us to our poll question for the week: Do you think ADHA's Framework for Action is too ambitious?

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

Speaking of ambition, last week we asked whether WA would be throwing good money after bad if it bought a statewide EMR. This one split our readers down the middle: 52 per cent said yes, 48 per cent said no.

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