Pulse+IT Blog

Getting on the front foot with vaccination passport

New Zealand kicked off its Covid-19 vaccination program today, with vaccinators themselves receiving the first of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots and border and quarantine staff to follow from tomorrow. Australia is set to start on Monday, with frontline health workers, quarantine and border workers and aged care and disability residents all being prepared for the first phase.

The ball has started rolling on the largest vaccination programs our countries have ever seen, and the hope is the majority of our populations will be covered by October. We’ll wait and see on that as systems fall into place to support the wider roll-out to the community, and fingers crossed everything goes smoothly. Our technology companies are coming to the party, deploying IT solutions at pace, and we hope to hear more news on how general practice will be supported as it prepares.

Vendors move quickly to fill tech void

The decision by the Victorian government to order a snap five-day lockdown from midnight on Friday shows just how crucial the COVID-19 vaccination program will be. As Nobel laureate Peter Doherty said, if we want to avoid this sort of constant economic and social disruption, we are going to need a vaccination rate of over 80 per cent.

That will mean retaining confidence in the vaccines themselves, and getting them out as quickly and efficiently as possible. And that will need good, efficient management of the first phases of distribution and administration in hospitals, residential aged care, general practice and pharmacies.

DoH booking a whole lot of trouble

By far the biggest story of the week has been the confusion that has surrounded the roll-out of the Department of Health’s alleged National Booking Solution to support the Covid-19 vaccination program in primary care. Such has been the confusion that some software vendors who sat in on a departmental call with their trade association on Tuesday came away completely shocked that the department did not mean to do what they all feared it would.

Rumour has swirled in the industry over the design of the solution, with many hearing that Accenture had been awarded a contract to build it. Accenture certainly is developing a data solution to trace the vaccines from receipt from the manufacturers to post-administration surveillance, but it appears it is not involved in the last mile of managing bookings and recalls for vaccination clinics.

Vax campaign not going by the book

The big news this week was the Australian Department of Health’s call for expressions of interest from general practices to take part in phase 1b of the Covid vaccination program, which is due to begin in March. As the EOI has been digested over the week, some serious questions are being asked about the plan, which doesn’t appear to be fully fleshed out.

Putting aside whether it will be financially viable for any but the largest general practices that can guarantee a production line process to take part, questions remain about how to schedule patients for the different phases of the roll-out, the ability to adequately staff the clinics, and the site requirements that the department is specifying. We are now seeing pushback from GPs about the MBS funding model and concerns over patients that won’t be able to get their vaccine from their regular practice.

Telehealth takes flight in 2020

There's nothing that Health Minister Greg Hunt likes more than a good slogan that he can put to good use, over and over again, and he's latched onto a new one and is making the most of it. In the last few years it has been all about the government's 'rock solid commitment to Medicare'. This year, it's about the government's response to the pandemic and how it 'brought forward a 10-year plan on telehealth within 10 days'.

That there was a 10-year plan on telehealth, or any plan at all for that matter, is news to us, but Greg has grabbed hold of this saying and he's not letting go. That said, 2020 has most definitely seen a coming of age for telehealth and the government is to be congratulated on finally coming to the party and funding it properly through the MBS. In the next few years, telehealth should become embedded in normal clinical workflow and patients and the heath system will be all the better for it.

Is ADHA a lame duck?

The big news in Australian digital health this week was the appointment of former Mater Health CIO and Queensland Health chief health information officer Mal Thatcher as the Australian Digital Health Agency’s new chief technology officer. The job calls for both strategic and operational leadership of the agency’s infrastructure operations division at a critical time as it looks to modernise the national infrastructure and replatform the My Health Record, starting with its API gateway.

Dr Thatcher is an excellent choice, having had a career in both strategy and operational IT, and he is very well respected and liked in the industry. He knows his stuff so we wish him well as a new executive team is built to replace the initial one put together by Richard Royle and Tim Kelsey. All of that team has now departed, with new CEO Amanda Cattermole given space to select her own.

Upping the ante with virtual care

We have been a little late to the party reporting on eHealth NSW and the state's Agency for Clinical Innovation's establishment of a virtual care accelerator to co-ordinate the deluge of new technologies and models of care arising from the coronavirus pandemic, but it appears to be going great guns. eHealth NSW has had a whole host of projects on the go this year, backed up by enormous amounts of cash that other health services can only dream of.

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