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?
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.