Pulse+IT Blog

Should video kill the audio star?

Telehealth was again a hot topic this week, with Andrew Baird's article on how GPs were using both phone and video our most popular. The AMA and RACGP have both been hard at it lobbying the federal government to extend the temporary MBS items for telehealth beyond September 30 and everyone seems to agree it would be a good idea.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt does too, repeatedly saying he's keen on telehealth and touting the benefits of the temporary measures. That he is in the unique position of actually being able to make them permanent but as yet has not done so seems to have escaped his notice.

COVID response and the CIA

All eyes were on the Victorian aged care sector this week as it continued to bear the brunt of the second coronavirus wave. Many were also watching the poor performance of Australia's Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who has had his responsibility for decisions about COVID-19 related aged care emergency measures removed and handed over to Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Thankfully the outbreak in aged care appears to have stabilised and the number of facilities on the critical list is beginning to fall. This may have been assisted by moves a month ago by the federal and state governments to set up a Victorian Aged Care Response Centre (VACRC) to manage the outbreak and mobilise extra carers for the 129 facilities that have reported infections so far. The centre's executive director Joe Buffone said the centre was tracking 13 facilities in the red “critical” category in early August and that number has now stabilised to four.

HealthEngine's $2.9m worth of sorrow

The long-running saga of HealthEngine and several instances of its naughty behaviour finally came to an end this week with a spanking $2.9 million fine handed down courtesy of the Federal Court of Australia. In action instigated by the ACCC last year following an ABC investigation, HealthEngine acknowledged it shared users' personal information with insurance brokers without adequately disclosing this to the users, and picked up a tidy $1.8m over four years for doing so.

Aged care at the epicentre of epidemic

We had our fingers crossed this week that things would go well at the Parkville precinct in Melbourne, where three hospitals went live with a new electronic medical record on Saturday morning, and it appears that things have gone smoothly. We have not heard a peep or a grumble about the implementation so far, apart from questioning the wisdom of going live during a global pandemic in a city experiencing a second wave of infections in the first place.

The Royal Children's Hospital implementation, which has been adopted by its neighbours, seems to have been the right one and if there were major problems this week, everyone would have heard. Parkville's big bang during COVID-19 will make a fascinating case study one day.

Epic leap for ACT Health

Pulse+IT's top story for this week was the announcement that the ACT had chosen Epic's EMR for the territory's ambitious digital health program. This came as little surprise as the health service had used the term “big bang implementation” at a vendor briefing not long after the release of the tender last year.

The most successful big bang in Australian healthcare – the only one, come to think of it – has been at the Royal Children's Hospital, which went live with Epic in 2016. RCH's neighbours in the Parkville precinct will be girding their loins next weekend for their big bang, with Epic set to go live at Royal Melbourne, Royal Women's and Peter Mac on Saturday, August 8.

Misfortune or carelessness: the year 2020

Along with “novel coronavirus”, “social distancing” and “hydroxychloroquine”, “contact tracing apps” will go down as one of the most notable additions to the pandemic lexicon. They have certainly proved controversial as privacy concerns run headlong into public health necessities, and few if any have proved overly useful.

New Zealand's COVID Tracer app hasn't been hugely successful so far with fewer than 600,000 downloads, but thankfully it hasn't really needed to be. However, with one eye on the second wave plaguing Victoria, the NZ government has announced it is going to trial a new wearable Bluetooth alternative called CovidCard that has been strongly promoted by business groups and some academics.

Telehealth restrictions a retrograde step

Debate over telehealth continued this week as the new restrictions ordered by the Department of Health came into force in a hurry. Some online appointment booking services are now asking patients trying to book a telehealth conference if they have seen a GP at that practice in the previous 12 months, with one reader telling us she had tried to book a telehealth conference to get a new referral but was knocked back because she hadn't presented there in person in over a year.

We had a lot of debate on the topic on our blog from last week, with numerous examples given of different cohorts of patients, especially vulnerable groups, who will now be prevented from accessing MBS-funded telehealth services just when they were finally given access to them. In an article in this week's MJA Insight, Elwood Family Practice GP Andrew Baird detailed a number of cases where vulnerable patients will be disadvantaged by the new rules and provides a great deal of food for thought.

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