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Turf wars pop up over telehealth

As has been widely reported here and elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a huge increase in telehealth provision in primary care. In Australia, MBS figures showing that 36 per cent of all GP consultations were done by telehealth in April alone, and that number is expected to remain high when the May and June figures are released. But now that the restrictions on movement are being lifted in many countries, doctors' groups like the RACGP are running a campaign to get patients back into general practice and not put off seeing their GP any longer.

In Australia, the RACGP is also running a campaign against what it is calling “pop-up” telehealth services, claiming that some of the new services are potentially providing sub-standard and inappropriate care. The AMA has joined the party and is actively lobbying the government to tighten the rules in order to prevent these services from potentially undermining the relationship between patients and their regular GP.

My Health Record, eight years on

It's birthday time again for Australia's My Health Record system, which will next week celebrate eight years in operation following two years of gestation. And a difficult birth it was, as we not-so-fondly remember. Our reminiscing was inspired not just by its approaching birthday on July 1 but by a press release from the Australian Digital Health Agency, proudly boasting of a surge in use of the system during the COVID-19 crisis.

The term “surge in use” took us back to 2011 and 2012, when we were breathless with anticipation about the new baby, then known as the PCEHR. Some of our first online stories were about how the medical software industry was approaching the impending birth: first with trepidation, followed by alarm, and then with horror.

Digital Health CRC loses its head

We're not quite sure what's the deal here but the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre, launched with much fanfare and buckets of cash in April 2018, has lost its second CEO in just over two years of operation.

No exact reason has been given for Victor Pantano's abrupt departure other than he has moved to find alternative employment, but it's not a great look for the initiative, which in addition to $55 million in federal government funds was pledged cash and in-kind funding from various universities and industry partners for a total of $279m over seven years.

Back to the new normal

As the saying now goes, the coronavirus has brought the digital health sector 10 years of change in 10 days, but this week also brought us a reminder that some things haven't changed all that much. We refer to a return to the old normal, in which state health departments regularly struggle to procure and implement clinical IT systems large and small, as the repeated tendering for a statewide chemotherapy prescribing system in South Australia has shown us. It did it again this week.

Significant under-investment in IT systems and holding on to legacy platforms for far too long is also a constant refrain. This week, the New Zealand Ministry of Health released a current-state assessment of NZ's health assets, including buildings, infrastructure and IT, and it's not a pretty sight. The ministry is estimating that the DHBs will need $2.3 billion over the next 10 years to fix some of their legacy problems and reap the benefits of digital health systems, although even that seems a bit unambitious.

Ease on restrictions as data analysis ramps up

The NZ Ministry of Health had the pleasure to announce today that for the seventh day in a row, no new cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the country. There is no one in New Zealand receiving hospital-level care for COVID-19 and there is just one case still active. So successful has lockdown been for New Zealand in curtailing COVID (and romantic activity) that some are keen to try to stamp out other infections too.

The news comes as restrictions on people's activities are further eased in New Zealand and Australia, with Western Australia announcing today that it would implement a two square metre per person capacity rule for venues, replacing the previous four square metre rule in force elsewhere. It is to the absolute credit of healthcare authorities, healthcare workers and the governments of both countries that we have managed this pandemic so well.

Signed, sealed, delivered

It was a big week in primary care this week as electronic prescribing ratcheted up, secure messaging got a boost and a private equity firm played a blinder and snapped up a practice management software vendor from under everyone's noses. It ended with an emerging scandal in international health research, as The Lancet was forced to retract an article amid what appears to be a fabricated data set used in a now infamous hydroxychloroquine study for COVID-19.

The week got off to an interesting start with pharmacy software vendor Minfos announcing it was working with fellow EBOS Group company TerryWhite Chemmart to pilot electronic prescription capabilities in the regional NSW town of Armidale. NSW and Victoria are among several jurisdictions that have passed regulations allowing eScripts to be issued and dispensed, and later in the week PMS vendor Zedmed got together with Chemist Warehouse, Simple Retail's Aquarius dispensing system and the prescription exchanges eRx and MediSecure to test out their eScript capabilities in two Melbourne general practices and two pharmacies.

Hunt for the Man from SNOMED River

Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt had a nice little announcement yesterday, revealing that since March 13, there have been 10.4 million services delivered to 5.71 million patients by telehealth, with $536.5 million benefits paid, and close to 70,000 healthcare providers have used telehealth services.

It's a pretty enormous number and comes as Greg himself is being lobbied pretty hard to continue with MBS-funded telehealth in the future. GPs in particular seem to like it although they are champing at the bit over the requirement that COVID-19 patients and vulnerable groups be bulk billed. The move is on now to keep some form of publicly subsidised telehealth, with the AMA yesterday issuing a strong call for it to be retained.

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