Digital Health CRC loses its head

We're not quite sure what's the deal here but the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre, launched with much fanfare and buckets of cash in April 2018, has lost its second CEO in just over two years of operation.

No exact reason has been given for Victor Pantano's abrupt departure other than he has moved to find alternative employment, but it's not a great look for the initiative, which in addition to $55 million in federal government funds was pledged cash and in-kind funding from various universities and industry partners for a total of $279m over seven years.

Two years in, and the organisation is only now starting to gear up with some projects. We admit to having been extremely cynical about the CRC from the start, wondering why such a huge amount of money was being channelled into yet another organisation rather than existing research groups like the CSIRO's Australian eHealth Research Centre, Data61 or the Digital Health Centre for Research Excellence. Several of the universities involved in the CRC also already have strong digital health research groups, especially Macquarie, Melbourne, Queensland, Flinders and Curtin.

We also got the feeling that the originators of the CRC had little to no understanding of what digital health was in the first place. It was starting to make some noise this year and has picked up some extra industry and organisational partners but we're still not quite sure about its long-term purpose. A search is underway for Dr Pantano's replacement and in the meantime, it will be helmed for the next three months by Michael Costello, formerly of eHealth NSW and HealthDirect and currently general manager of architecture, design and strategy for the Australian Digital Health Agency.

Speaking of which, we understand the announcement of ADHA's new CEO is imminent. We hear that a shortlist of five underwent final interviews about a month ago, comprising four local applicants and one from overseas. ADHA seems to have sailed along just fine under the leadership of interim CEO Bettina McMahon so there does not appear to be any urgency in appointing a permanent replacement, although it's a $520,000+ job though so someone might want to snap it up. Perhaps Dr Pantano has put his hand up for it.

The other big news this week was from NZ, where a very large review of the country's health and disability system was released. The Simpson review has called for significant changes to the whole structure of healthcare, including the establishment of a new agency that will work alongside the Ministry of Health but will be responsible for the actual delivery of healthcare, and another dedicated to Maori health.

There was the expected call that the number of district health boards be reduced from 20 to between eight and 12. It's a common complaint that for a nation of five million people, 20 different DHBs is far too much, including the fact that three of them are in Auckland. However, the review itself heavily emphasised the importance of locality and making services easy to access and simple to navigate by the people who live and work there, as well as funding based on need, so reducing or consolidating DHBs would appear to be counter intuitive.

There were also lots of suggestions for health IT in the review, most of them pretty good, including an emphasis on consumers having access to their own data. Allied to the Ministry of Health's assessment that IT will need a $2.3 billion injection over 10 years, it is now clear that a lot needs to be done to better harness data and digital to develop a responsive health system. Whether the NZ government has the will or the cash to do it is another matter.

In other news, the federal government unexpectedly – and unusually with little fanfare – announced this week that it would subsidise the use of the healthdirect Video Call service for all GPs for free until September 30, when the temporary COVID-19 MBS items for telehealth are due to expire. There appears to be little doubt that the government is prepared to extend them in some way, but it also appears keen to get GPs using video rather the telephone in the long term. We have reported recently that the bulk of telehealth in primary care in Australia is being done on the phone, and we understand the same goes in NZ. The UK doesn't have firm figures but we found this breakdown interesting.

Also this week we had a couple of nice stories detailing how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed health IT implementations. There was this story on how multidisciplinary team meetings went remote at The San in Sydney, and this one on how MediRecords and AWS helped Healthdirect scale up the national coronavirus helpline in just four days. Next week, we'll find out how iMedX helped Southern DHB quickly replace its legacy dictation and transcription system when all the typists had to go offsite.

We found this announcement interesting too. Australia's competition watchdog is looking into Google's planned purchase of Fitbit, mainly on the grounds that it could be anti-competitive in terms of digital advertising but also because of worries over Google's access to Fitbit's wealth of consumer health data. Reuters reported last year that the US Justice Department is also nosing around the proposed acquisition. We're not sure how much teeth the ACCC actually has when it comes to a behemoth like Google, but all of the tech giant are increasingly interested in healthcare. In a late development this week, the NHS announced it would abandon the building of its COVID-19 contact tracing app in favour of the Google and Apple-developed alternative.

That brings us to our poll question this week: Are you concerned about Big Tech firms encroaching on healthcare?

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

Last week we asked: Are you satisfied with your government's assurances about the deletion of tracing data after the pandemic? Not great news for trust in government: 44 per cent said yes, 56 per cent said no.


0 # Paul Venables 2020-06-20 17:13
I participated in some of the early CRC events and was disappointed by the lack of any clear vision or purpose for the CRC. We were invited to be a part of the team but once it became clear that we didn’t have substantial funding to provide to the CRC communication ceased. That might have been a coincidence but difficult not to connect the two!
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:21
We’re currently having conversations around health & digital literacy, social licence and transparency in relation to informed consent and the risks associated with sharing electronic health records stored in the cloud without patients’ fully informed consent in a way that empowers them to control who has access to their records. The privacy issues are delicate, as are the potential threats and challenges to trust and confidentiality that develops between patients and their clinicians. Transparent data governance is critical, whilst the black cloud of Cyber security looms and hovers over this entire conversation.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:22
The empathy and continuity of care by one family heath care provider is being destroyed by "technology" driven "models of care" . You just don't get spare parts off the shelf when needed when caring for people's health outcomes.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:22
We should be concerned, but there could be great benefit also, so I wouldn’t want to shut it down completely. The question becomes “how do we get appropriate oversight and control”.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:22
These companies should be scrutinized for its clinical governance not just its IT governance including professionalism and ethical code of conduct.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:23
Health is not receiving value for their money Technilogt is outdated by the time it is implemented Poor fit compared to what is available in broader community. Does not meet clinical or consumer expectations. Benefits hard to realise. Too many constraint and road blocks is along the way.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:23
They always have, they always will.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:24
The way staff privacy via security checks is (not) managed by start-ups - and there is no oversight/regul ation on this.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:24
The have the resources to do something useful in healthcare, the innovation culture to change things and the private company mentality to get things done.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:24
Regulations protecting the use of personal health information are not strong enough.
0 # Guest 2020-07-03 18:24
Once they get their hands on this data they'll start using it for their own purposes. Last week's 4-Corners program is a good example of what can happen.

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