Bonkers start to the new year

Welcome back to readers from the Pulse+IT team, which has refreshed itself over the summer break by doing a little redesign of the daily eNewsletter for 2020. We've made some improvements to the template so articles can be more easily shared on social channels and so the newsletter can be displayed differently on phones, making mobile reading easier.

We've also redesigned the Pulse+IT Directory, which lists the products and services provided by Australia and New Zealand's leading clinical software and health IT vendors, so take a look around if you are in the market.

The 2020 year in health IT got off to an interesting start with confirmation that Queensland Health had chosen to roll out Telstra Health's Communicare system for the Regional eHealth Project in far north Queensland, as our sources informed us last year. Those sources tell us there is still some controversy over the project, not the least of which over whether it will make budget. We'll be keeping a close eye on progress.

We were a bit late to report on this but New Zealand plans to phase out analogue fax machines by the end of this year, with the Ministry of Health mandating that healthcare organisations enable the TLS encryption protocol on email servers by the end of this month and requesting that they swap to secure messaging or at least scan to email by the end of 2020.

Making news worldwide this week was the announcement that Microsoft was officially ending support for the Windows 7 operating system, still the second most commonly used after Windows 10. Our scan of clinical software vendors and IT experts in the primary care sector seems to show that most health and medical practices should not have major problems if they have not yet upgraded to Windows 10, but at the same time, critical vulnerabilities were discovered in that OS by the US National Security Agency and urgent patches were released this week. Everyone using Windows 10 is encouraged to apply the patches as soon as possible.

Closer to home, the proposed merger between HISA and ACHI got a big thumbs up from members in voting before Christmas, so come February 24, there will be a new Australasian Institute of Digital Health. Any suggestions for a suitable acronym would be most welcome. Aida, anyone?

And finally, regular readers might remember the stunning saga of New Zealand's Albi Whale and his revolutionary medical AI tool called Zach. Back in 2018, The Spinoff's David Farrier detailed his investigation into the tall tale of the Terrible Foundation, a charity set up by Mr Whale and his father to develop technology that would be of benefit to all humankind. Doctors could record their consultations with patients and email it to Zach, which would then write up a clinical note and return it promptly. Zach could also allegedly read an ECG better than a trained cardiologist and was being put through its paces at the University of Otago.

However, in two wonderfully written but absolutely bonkers articles, Mr Farrier detailed how rather than being “several hundred tonnes of liquid nitrogen cooled supercomputer”, Zach did not actually exist. Rather than a “custom silicon” machine learning revolution, it is highly likely that it was Mr Whale on the end of the email, analysing the recording and typing up notes complete with misspellings and Trump-like errant capitalisation. Mr Farrier also found some very wild claims about financial backing for the technology in annual returns the Terrible Foundation lodged with the Charities Commission. From less than a million dollars at start up, Terrible's 2018 return said it had equity of $456 million, presumably the value of that several hundred tonnes of supercomputer.

This week, we learned from Mr Farrier that the Charities Registration Board had decided to deregister The Terrible New Zealand Charitable Trust and disqualify two of its officers – Mr Whale and his dad – for a period of three years due to serious wrongdoing. There were red faces all around, particularly for the Christchurch GP who had been duped by the Whales into sending his patient notes to 'Zach'. Dr Robert Seddon-Smith seemed to be under the impression that Zach had the ability to ring people up only to find out they had been asleep on the couch. Hilariously, Mr Farrier posted some notes from an Internal Affairs investigation into the saga in which Dr Seddon-Smith mused that while the journalist was well-meaning, he was “not frankly the sharpest deck in the pack”.

It makes for some riveting Saturday reading but provides a salutary lesson. While AI may very well revolutionise medicine one day – for instance, this week we reported on diagnostic imaging provider I-MED Radiology Network partnering with Sydney-based healthcare AI firm and health insurer nib putting $10 million towards a new data science joint venture with Cigna – there is also a lot of absolute nonsense floating about.

That brings us to our first poll for the new year. In our last weekend edition before Christmas, we asked: will 2020 be a better year for eHealth than 2019? Most people seem positive: 73 per cent say yes, while 27 per cent say no.

This week, we ask: Will AI revolutionise medicine as we know it?

Sign up to our weekend edition or Pulse+IT Chat to vote, or leave your thoughts below.

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