Heading into the holidays, health sector goes heavy on the hyperbole
Pulse+IT has been running our annual eHealth year in review series this week as we wind down for an extended holiday, but we did take a bit of time out to read up on Australian health minister Greg Hunt’s announcement that telehealth will apparently become a “permanent” feature of the MBS. In amongst a lot of hyperbolic announcements amounting to what seems like eleventy billion dollars in funding for the government’s COVID-19 response, we discovered that the “permanent” telehealth measure merely amounted to just over $100 million over four years.
It appears that the guts of this measure is that a patient can be phoned or consulted by video and the GP can claim for it if they have seen that patient in person in the previous 12 months, as is allowed now under the COVID-19 provisions. The only change is the permanent bit. However, the government’s plans for voluntary patient registration are destined to restrict this further in the future to only those patients registered with one practice. It’s not exactly the free for all the press releases promise but Mr Hunt managed to roll out RACGP president Karen Price for the announcement, which is apparently all that matters.
VPR-restricted phone calls may very well be good for continuity of care as Dr Price says but there is no way in hell it represents “permanent telehealth”. We were reminded of the government’s hyperbole on telehealth at the same time last year when we received a missive from the Medical Software Industry Association this week lauding the measure and repeating the worn-out slogan that the government had a “10-year plan for telehealth that was achieved in 10 days”. A “Herculean effort”, the MSIA says. It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now.
There is no doubt that telehealth and remote monitoring models of care have been one of the big success stories of the year, driven in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the government removing its own long-standing limitations on models of care and claiming this as a victory for telehealth is beyond the pale. Telehealth and remote monitoring have been around for a long time, using existing technologies that are now finally being put to good use according to regional needs. But even for that slight advance, we thank them.
Putting together our top 20 stories of the year is always a fun exercise and this one was funner than most. Our top story for the year was Simon James’ article back in July detailing his incredible frustrations trying to book a vaccination through Healthdirect’s site, which then plunged him into the horrors awaiting with NSW Health’s broken systems.
But despite various ad-hoc attempts to provide up to date appointment availability, the roll out of ServiceNow’s new system and Healthdirect releasing an industry offer in September to get booking solutions all using a standard API, it still does not appear to be working.
Simon tried to book a booster vaccine just this week and hit on the same old problems, one of which we’ve highlighted in red in the above screenshot. Searching the vaccine clinic finder on the 16th of December for the next available appointment brings up a suggestion for a spot on the 18th – of November.
As he writes: “Almost two years after COVID-19 started to receive international attention, Australia still does not have a robust booking system for COVID vaccinations. While we have achieved high vaccinations rates in spite of these technology failures, the requirement for Australians to receive at least a third jab means Healthdirect’s botching of its Vaccine Clinic Finder can’t pass without mention.
“As late as this week, the system is still incapable of providing people looking to find a vaccination with a credible list of locations and appointment times. Searching for a third shot in eastern Sydney, the first clinic in the list of "earliest available” appointments displayed the next available appointment one month ago. The second clinic on the list said appointments were available on the day, but navigating into the clinic’s booking system only showed appointments in 2022.
“The third clinic on the list wouldn’t allow a third jab to be booked. The fourth clinic was a hospital operated by NSW Health, and due to changes to their booking system since my second jab in July, the password for the email address used at the time couldn’t be reset and the registration process needed to be restarted from scratch.
“After completing the multi-page form, the system then presented a list of hospitals from across the state, including options to book in on short notice at a nearby hospital. Turns out this option was not meant to be available to the general public but for hospital staff, so more stuffing around ensued.
“A full hour later and with the assistance of NSW Health’s telephone support operator, my third vaccination was booked. Bottom line is that if booking a vaccination takes more time than travelling to and getting a vaccination, something is clearly wrong with the approach.”
It really isn’t optimal, is it? It should not be so hard.
But lest we end the year on a sour note, our year in review throws up tale after tale of good news stories in digital health. Some of our favourites have been about the use of remote monitoring technologies integrated with new hospital virtual health programs. The next big thing is integrating these with primary and community care, which is still a work in progress. Perhaps “permanent” telehealth on the MBS is the start.
That brings us to our final poll for the year:
Are the MBS-funded GP telehealth plans a real game-changer?
Vote here or leave your comments below.
Last week, we asked: Has FHIR lived up to its promise of revolutionising interoperability? 40 per cent of respondents said yes, but 60 per cent said no. Here’s what you thought.
Pulse+IT is heading off for a month's break from December 18 but we'll be back on January 17. Have a very pleasant Christmas and New Year from Abbey, Claude, Cohen, Emily, Hamid, Kate and Simon.
Pulse+IT's top 5 for 2021
Click here to see the full hot top 20.