Signed, sealed, delivered

It was a big week in primary care this week as electronic prescribing ratcheted up, secure messaging got a boost and a private equity firm played a blinder and snapped up a practice management software vendor from under everyone's noses. It ended with an emerging scandal in international health research, as The Lancet was forced to retract an article amid what appears to be a fabricated data set used in a now infamous hydroxychloroquine study for COVID-19.

The week got off to an interesting start with pharmacy software vendor Minfos announcing it was working with fellow EBOS Group company TerryWhite Chemmart to pilot electronic prescription capabilities in the regional NSW town of Armidale. NSW and Victoria are among several jurisdictions that have passed regulations allowing eScripts to be issued and dispensed, and later in the week PMS vendor Zedmed got together with Chemist Warehouse, Simple Retail's Aquarius dispensing system and the prescription exchanges eRx and MediSecure to test out their eScript capabilities in two Melbourne general practices and two pharmacies.

Everyone seems to be on the fast-track for eScripts and the interest from the pharmacy sector appears to be enormous, if the numbers logging into a Fred IT webinar on Wednesday night were anything to go by. A whopping 1500 people were dialled in at the start of the webinar, growing to 2900 at the end. It appears the eScript workflow from the pharmacy end is a bit more complicated than for the prescribers and much interest was raised about the concept of active script lists, work on which is still ongoing.

We also heard from SA Health, which has chosen HealthLink to manage its whole of state secure messaging program. This should be piloted in the next couple of months and will be a most interesting demonstration of the new interoperability specifications that have been developed in Australia, which will allow different secure messaging systems to speak to each other. A webinar hosted by Adelaide PHN this week heard that HealthLink, Argus, ReferralNet and Medical-Objects are all in use in primary care in SA, and the plan is that no one will have to change vendors with the new platform. It will be interesting to see how they go.

The really big news of the week was a play from left field when an Australian private equity firm made a successful bid, headed by well-known health IT figure Geoff Sayer, for New Zealand's market leading PMS vendor Medtech. Dr Sayer will be a very safe pair of hands at the helm of Medtech, having had previous strategic roles at MedicalDirector, HealthLink, Toniq and Clanwilliam Group, as well as a stint as president of the Medical Software Industry Association. Medtech founder and executive chairman Vino Ramayah will keep hold of the recently spun out ManageMyHealth, which is widely used as a patient portal in New Zealand and is also being targeted at the hospital sector in Australia, NZ and the UK for its remote monitoring capabilities.

No price was revealed for Medtech's primary care assets but the private equity firm funding the acquisition, Advent Partners, says it generally invests between between $15m and $50m. Medtech has over 80 per cent share of the NZ market, meaning it is used in about 800 practices, although it has been challenged in recent years by Indici, the newcomer developed by Irish firm Valentia as a cloud solution for use in health care homes. It is now a common saying that the arrival of Indici made Medtech pull its socks up a bit in the customer service department, and Dr Sayer has promised to continue with this.

While Pulse+IT heard rumours earlier this year that Medtech was looking for a buyer and had contracted KPMG to be on the lookout for one, we were assured by Mr Ramayah in February that it wasn't for sale. How things change. In Australia, MedicalDirector's owners are also looking for a buyer, although for the price they are understood to be after, it may take some time.

Elsewhere, a scandal began to break this week as it emerged that something was not quite right about a study published in The Lancet last month that claimed to have analysed a huge data set on outcomes from the use of Donald Trump's bedtime remedy hydroxychloroquine for people with COVID-19. The study used a data set from an obscure US firm called Surgisphere, which has a database called QuartzClinical that it says holds data from 1200 hospitals.

The data set used for the Lancet article allegedly involves almost 100,000 patients from 671 hospitals on six continents. As Nous Group chief data scientist Peter Ellis pointed out in a blog, “there is simply no plausible way I can think of that the data are real”. He also pointed out that a credit report firm Dun & Bradstreet estimates the company's annual revenue at $US45,245, with two employees – one of whom calls themselves a “scoence editor” – and that while it claims a handful of awards for its technology, the only credible one is a vanity award from Frost & Sullivan.

Guardian Australia's Melissa Davey, who uncovered some dodgy Australian figures in the original Lancet article, has a super story about it all here.

The Surgisphere and QuartzClinical websites also contain a lot of nonsense about machine learning, data analytics and AI. The idea that there is a system available that can harvest de-identified data in real time from hospitals on six continents using different EMRs, and have that data shipped to an obscure company with no academic affiliation in the US with two employees and no revenue, just beggars belief. A closer look should have been taken by the journal in question to say the least.

Coincidentally, we asked in our poll last week if you thought AI will begin to show its worth in pandemic data analysis. Not many people voted on this question but of those who did, 61 per cent said yes, 39 per cent said no.

Rounding out the week was a report back from the ePrescribing trial in Melbourne, which allowed a patient to see his GP via telehealth, receive an electronic script token on his phone that he then forwarded to his pharmacy by text, and have his medication delivered to his home just hours later, all without having to get out of his armchair.

Our poll question this week is: Do you think ePrescribing will be taken up enthusiastically?

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

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