Vax campaign not going by the book
The big news this week was the Australian Department of Health’s call for expressions of interest from general practices to take part in phase 1b of the Covid vaccination program, which is due to begin in March. As the EOI has been digested over the week, some serious questions are being asked about the plan, which doesn’t appear to be fully fleshed out.
Putting aside whether it will be financially viable for any but the largest general practices that can guarantee a production line process to take part, questions remain about how to schedule patients for the different phases of the roll-out, the ability to adequately staff the clinics, and the site requirements that the department is specifying. We are now seeing pushback from GPs about the MBS funding model and concerns over patients that won’t be able to get their vaccine from their regular practice.
There are also questions about the national booking system that the department is promising. There is little detail in the EOI about this, so we sent them a few questions on Monday. Is the department seriously going to build a whole new system, which would take months, or is it going to do the smart thing and use one of the existing online booking systems like HotDoc, MyHealth1st, Healthsite or HealthEngine, with an interface to the booking system used by each practice if needs be? Healthdirect used HotDoc to quickly rustle up a booking system for the Covid respiratory clinics, albeit without the interface, so it can be done in a hurry using an off-the-shelf system.
From the response we received from the department today, we are not confident they are on the right track. “We are working through opportunities and design of the national booking system,” a DoH spokesperson told us. “Further advice will be provided as these designs progress, including through discussions across governments and the sector. The Department is unlikely to be able to provide further details at this stage but will continue to provide information as it becomes available.” We are hearing that none of the vendors has been contacted as yet.
You’d think this would have been sorted last year, given that we have a global pandemic on our hands with a vaccine the only way to control it long-term and a mass vaccination program essential, wouldn’t you? Questions also remain about who is going to handle recalls for the second dose, and there are questions too for the hospital-based hubs about whether they will need a booking system or how they will access the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).
To the department’s credit we have the AIR in place, and people can access their history pretty easily through Medicare’s online services and the My Health Record. (Chamonix has jumped on this and added a Covid immunisation status section to its MyHR-linked Healthi app.) But surely the department knew that a mass vaccination effort would need to be done this year and formed part of its forward planning? We are not overly confident.
We are also wondering why the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) doesn’t appear to be involved in any of the Covid planning or activity, outside of the five projects it funded last year through its grandly titled innovation challenge. Why hasn’t it been put in charge of the national booking solution, or anything else IT related?
Perhaps it speaks to the relevance of the agency itself. In last week’s blog, we asked for your views on what you thought ADHA’s role is or should be, and we got loads of answers. Our favourite responses to the question of what would you like to see the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) achieve in 2021 were “something” – quite a few of you said that – and “get shit done instead of nothing”.
Some called for the agency to be disbanded completely, many said it needed to resolve the interoperability and messaging challenges that have so far defeated it, but the clear leader in volume of comments was “make My Health Record work”. It was notable that no one leapt to the defence of the agency, except for one critical comment about Pulse+IT’s “negativity” and another criticising our “shallow, ill-informed question”. Everyone else thought something needed to be done.
But like our view on the Department of Health’s ability to handle a national booking system properly, we are not confident that will happen.
So, to this week’s question:
Is Australia adequately prepared for the mass vaccination roll-out?
Vote here and feel free to leave your comments below.