Changing of the guard at Telstra Health as digital health summit gets going

All the talk this week has been about the changing of the guard at Australia’s largest health IT company, with news that NSW Health secretary Elizabeth Koff will take over from her predecessor, Mary Foley, as the next MD at Telstra Health. Professor Foley was very warmly regarded by both her peers and her staff and in addition to setting the company on the path to profitability and buying up some pretty valuable assets, she has weathered a number of political storms with aplomb.

Telstra Health recently won a large contract outside of the healthcare industry – a $200 million, five-year deal to run Australia’s 1800RESPECT national assault, domestic and family violence hotline – signalling that it is now able to leverage some of the infrastructure it put into place for huge projects like the National Cancer Screening Register. It will be interesting in the next year or so to see how it handles the MedicalDirector transition (we are still convinced it paid too much) and its plans for international expansion under its new leadership.

We also remain to be convinced about Telstra Health’s potential in the hospital sector, where things change at glacier pace, and there’s no doubt that it is yet to achieve anywhere near the joined-up health system it touted when it was established back in 2014. No single company can solve this, of course. It’s a national and international problem, potential solutions for which are many but actual progress is still snail paced.

We wish Professor Foley all the best in her future endeavours. She is staying on as a non-executive director and special advisor, and meanwhile Ms Koff will come into the job after a torrid two years managing Australia’s largest health service during the biggest health crisis in a century. A few naysayers have queried why a public servant would be chosen to lead Telstra Health over someone with experience running a medical software company, but wrangling 200 hospitals, 120,000 staff and the most extreme political pressure imaginable should hold her in good stead.

Meanwhile, New Zealand announced this week that it was rolling out some pretty good digital solutions to help manage the Omicron outbreak with self-management at home the default. New Zealand’s technology response to the pandemic has so far centred around its managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, its QR code check-ins, contact tracing capabilities, electronically linking testing laboratories with public health units, and getting its vaccine management and booking system up and running.

Tech companies like Sysmex NZ and Valentia Technologies have helped out with border control in particular, and Valentia’s border clinical management system (BCMS), based on its indici general practice management software, is now being repurposed as the national COVID-19 clinical care module (CMMM), which GPs and other primary and community care providers can access for COVID-positive patients through their PMS, should they need to do so. GPs on a video call with Ministry of Health officials this week did grumble about a lot of aspects about the ministry’s plan and communications or lack thereof, but NZ appears to have handled it all a lot better than any state or territory in Australia has.

On the topic of grumbles, last week we had a bit of a go at the doctors’ lobbies and what we think were their fumbling attempts to grapple with telehealth policy over the years. We hear this week that, unsurprisingly, the Department of Health has no intention of easing or hardening restrictions yet again just to placate the RACGP. We certainly upset a few doctors with our views last week on how their lobby groups have dithered and undermined telehealth policy, but our poll shows that most of our readers are with us. On the topic of whether doctors’ lobby groups have undermined the roll-out of telehealth in Australia, three quarters of our readers said yes (75% to 25%).

We also asked what the digital health industry should do to fix the situation. Here’s what you said.

We’re heading off to Melbourne this week for the Digital Health Institute Summit and will be reporting live. We are triple jabbed, masked, RATed and ready to go. Hopefully we’ll see some of you there.

Our poll question this week is:

Will Telstra Health achieve its goal of joined-up care in the Australian health system?

Vote here or leave your comments below.

Comments  

0 # Kate McDonald 2022-02-25 15:41
So will Telstra Health achieve its goal of joined-up care in the Australian health system? Most said no: 71 per cent to 29 per cent. We also asked why, or why not. Here’s what you said:

- Does not have the right assets, management or capability
They are overpaying for a bunch of fragmented assets and don’t have the expertise to run them.

- For the components it can integrate.

- The current funding split between the Federal and State governments contributes to the structural and process barriers

-Because it will always have a bad reputation in healthcare

- Too many other players

- Too slow and too risk averse

- Someone’s gotta do it!

- Buy they will need to keep buying. Governments don't seem to be able to agree. So please Telstra - do me a favour. Keep buying and we might at last achieve interoperability.......

- Are you serious? A telecommunicati ons company transforming healthcare? You expect a very small tail to wag a very large, corpulent dog?

- If anyone can do it, Elizabeth Koff can

- the constitutional divide between hospitals and general practice

- I am skeptical that an organisation that hasn't been able to update their own Health Software Programs can achieve something so mammoth

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