Yes Minister, your app is a dud

Pulse+IT’s Tasmanian correspondent has had the great good fortune to live in close proximity to one of the quarantine hotels called into action recently to house seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands. From what we can tell, some locals returning from the Indian subcontinent who have to do their two weeks in isolation have been housed there too. But it is the Samoan guests in particular who have become famous down our way for their fantastic spirits while isolating for the past fortnight, and for the joy they have given voice to.

With no local infections recorded for the last 400+ days we are in a good position in Tasmania – recently voted one of the best places in the world in which to ride out an apocalypse, along with New Zealand, Iceland and Ireland – so the residents of the quarantine hotels have been given a little leeway and allowed out on the balconies to enjoy the Hobart winter and regale us with their song. They have been marvellous – if you haven’t heard about them, click here and here. The other guests have also been in good spirits and have been laughing and chatting and waving to passers-by, which we have enjoyed immensely.

It turns out that Telstra Health has provided some of the monitoring equipment for our guests, rolled out in a hurry. All of the talk about technology used in the pandemic has so far centred abound traditional telehealth, but we think remote vitals monitoring is also one of the technological stars of our present situation. We particularly enjoyed a webinar we sat in on this week hosted by video conferencing solution provider Vidyo for its telehealth hardware and device partner Visionflex, which is doing some really amazing stuff in all-in-one telehealth hubs that are increasingly being deployed into places like truck stops, cattle and sheep stations and communities along highways, which are now becoming health hubs not just for locals but for tourists and grey nomads.

The technology is quite expensive but it is also very sophisticated, ranging from basics like blood pressure monitors and pulse oximeters to some remarkably good general examination cameras, otoscopes, dental imaging cameras and even remote endoscopes. It seems there is no area that this equipment cannot probe.

Also this week we saw New Zealand’s national online booking system Book My Vaccine go online. This has been the subject of a bit of criticism from the likes of Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae, but health boss Ashley Bloomfield was very chipper this week when the system went live. A bit of cross-communication saw some people who had been invited to book not realise they couldn’t do so online until Wednesday, but otherwise it all seems to have gone well. Despite its late start, New Zealand is set to shoot up the vaccination percentage rankings in the next couple of weeks and should overtake Australia shortly.

Over in Australia, it seems out vaccination program is finally getting a move on, with younger people being encouraged to weigh up the risks and go for an AstraZeneca vaccine. We have been pretty impressed with how online booking engine HotDoc has very quickly rolled out new functionality for the pandemic – to be honest, all the others have too – but the ability to filter for the vaccine is great. While some would say it can encourage Pfizer snobbishness, it also allows people under 60 who want AstraZeneca to find a clinic that will administer it. This is great stuff.

What hasn’t been great stuff is the Australian government’s handling of the COVIDSafe app. We were all told last year to download it as one of our best weapons against the virus, or as “sunscreen”, as Prime Minister ScottyFromMarketing like to put it – but it in most respects it has not been great. That is certainly in part because Australia has avoided mass transmission, so even if it did work we wouldn’t have seen it, but it still has been a bit of a dud. QR code-based apps like Check-In Canberra, which was swiftly adopted by most of the other states, and NSW’s ServicesNSW app, have been much more efficient.

It has to be said though that the federal government’s defensiveness and lack of transparency about COVIDSafe really did come to the fore this week, when the Department of Health was forced to release an independent evaluation of the app’s implementation, effectiveness and efficiency under Freedom of Information rules.

It’s obvious from the extraordinary amount of redactions in the independent report that it was not complimentary. Disastrous might be a better description. And the press about the redactions was obviously so bad that DoH had to release its own report later in the week, with Health Minister Greg Hunt arguing that because Australia’s overall response to the pandemic had been so good, the app really wasn’t called into action.

Everyone accepts that it hasn’t been needed in action, Mr Hunt, but we’d also like to be assured that had the situation got out of control, the app may have been useful. We remain unconvinced. Whoever went to town on the independent report with their black Texta simply confirmed suspicions that it probably has been a waste of time and money.

That brings us to our poll question for the week:

If you installed it, do you still have the COVIDSafe app on your phone?

Last week, we asked: Will Telstra Health’s renewed interest in acquisitions pay dividends? 40:60 split – 40 per cent said yes, but 60 per cent said no.

Vote here or leave your comments below.


0 # Doug Vogel 2021-07-31 12:48
COVIDSafe is useful to provide a quick update on what is happening around Australia.
0 # Ian Mcknight 2021-07-31 15:23
Because it would have been a much better app with a labour Government in power, right!!! This doesn't feel like the first time that "ScottyfromMark eting" has been used in these articles to describe our PM, not sure who that's supposed to entertain or impress, obviously people other than me. This together with what feels like an overall decline in quality writing with regards to the Aus health sector, means I can save you the trouble of sending me a renewal next year.
+2 # Kate McDonald 2021-07-31 17:53
Thanks Ian.

It’s a dud app. No party politics come into it.


0 # DHHS Tasmania staffer 2021-08-02 09:25
Seemed like a good idea but once installed it ate my battery like pacman. The 'fix-it' update only made pacman more hungry. It has now left the building...

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