Clown show about to go off over booking system

This week we saw state and federal politicians dropping like flies, including Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who did his back in, and federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, who had a run in with cellulitis and ended up on an IV drip. It led to some unfortunate headlines such as the one that (warning: profanity) breakfast TV show Sunrise ran on Wednesday and also led Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take over as acting health minister, which is also turning out to be a bit unfortunate.

Mr Morrison may be able to sell some dodgy half-price plane fares as just the ticket to get the tourism industry back on its feet, but he was on much shakier ground today when he insisted to reporters that the government had not, in fact, promised that all Australians would be vaccinated by October.

It has become clear that we won’t, and Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy admitted that in a Senate hearing yesterday, arguing that most first shots would hopefully be administered by then but the follow-up injections may drag into the new year. Mr Morrison then trying to pretend this was what the government had been saying all along, when it very obviously had not, was not an edifying sight.

Nor, we expect, will be his obfuscation when the tabloid media picks up on the fact that HealthEngine has been awarded a contract to provide the booking element of the national COVID information and booking system. The concept, development and constant re-announcement of this booking system has been a clown show since the start and it is very likely to get worse. While HealthEngine is eminently capable of putting something decent up in a technological sense, no one is going to forget that the company was fined $2.9 million just last August for some very dubious business practices, some involving sharing patient contact information with some rather dubious characters.

We are a bit surprised that the media has not yet gone to town on this, although it may have flown under the radar among all the other dramas of this week. The Guardian reported on it responsibly yesterday but the whole exercise has been shrouded in mystery. There was no public tender issued on AusTender for the system and therefore no information on exactly what is going to be put up, and nor is there any information on how much HealthEngine is going to be paid. The select tender was sent to a panel of booking solution vendors somewhere around February 5, and yet the government expects us to believe it was in the position to roll out Phase 1b of the vaccination program that month with the booking system all ready to go. Not a chance in hell.

From what we can gather, patients will be encouraged to check with their regular GP if they are running vaccination clinics. If they are, the patient can book through normal channels including using the practice’s appointment booking system. If the practice isn’t taking part, then they will be directed to Healthdirect, where they can find a practice nearby through the National Health Services Directory, and book through them using HealthEngine’s standalone solution. We imagine a similar process will be offered to pharmacies.

It hopefully will all work out in the end but as we have argued in the past, it would have been far preferable if this had been sorted out last year so the whole drama could have been avoided. Now we await the clown show really going off.

Another drama that has been bubbling under the surface concerns the problems that prescribing software vendors have been experiencing with the move to active ingredient prescribing. Some of Pulse+IT’s sources have been hinting that there is some seriously dangerous stuff going on, including the wrong strengths and dosages being printed out on scripts, but the vendors tell us that it has more to do with the lists of exclusions from the new requirements, including drugs that are exempt and should only be prescribed by brand, and the list of drugs that doctors should consider prescribing by brand as well as active ingredient.

There seems to be universal acceptance that while active ingredient prescribing is the right way to go, it has been poorly publicised by the Department of Health. Vendors are telling us that the main questions they are being asked by prescribers running into problems are not about dosage or strength, but how to turn active ingredient prescribing off completely, unaware that it is now law. Like the booking system, this hasn’t all gone to plan.

That brings us to our poll question for the week:

Is choosing HealthEngine for the booking solution a good PR move?

Vote here and feel free to leave your comments below.

Last week, we asked: Is universal adoption of digital care management systems in aged care likely in the near future? There were plenty of respondents more confident than we are but the majority still said no: 58 per cent to 42 per cent.


+7 # Rob Hosking 2021-03-12 23:05
I would love some investigation into the money wasted on big company IT purchases by each jurisdiction. For example, Victoria has reportedly spent millions on a Microsoft vaccination management system. Who’s using it? The Western Health vaccination hub certainly isn’t. I believe SA has also purchased a large vaccination management solution. The Feds gave still put a lot of money into a product developed by two large multi nationals. Why is it no one seems to care when money is wasted on large multi nationals. That money could go a long way to develop local interoperable solutions. It’s far too easy to waste taxpayers money with no consequence.
-8 # Shane Solomon 2021-03-13 11:33
I am shocked and disappointed with this article. It is a matter of pride that we have an Australian company capable of standing such a solution uo so quickly. It has nothing to do with PR. Why the attack on Health Engine and undermining of Australian digital health? Report on the capability, and leave the political slander to others please.
+7 # Kate McDonald 2021-03-13 16:14
+2 # Kim Passante 2021-03-15 09:17
Would have been nice to see the process for how Healthengine actually got the contract, tender ? or just a job for my mates ? If it was proper process then show it. As I have had to go through the long process to access government funding it is kick in the guts to know that your time was wasted when they already had someone else lined up to the job.

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