Applications open for tough gig as new e-health chief

By Stephen Easton

January 20, 2016

Applications are now open for the top job at the new agency tasked with pulling the federal government’s efforts to create universal electronic health records out of the fire. Reviving the stalled project won’t be easy.

The Australian Digital Health Agency is to open its doors on July 1. The new body was originally referred to as the Australian Commission for eHealth when Health Minister Sussan Ley announced last May that it would replace the National E-Health Transition Authority and take over e-health “operations and associated governance arrangements” from her department.

The Department of Health would retain e-health policy under the new governance arrangements, which she said were “supported by states and territories” and would improve accountability and transparency in unspecified ways. Ley also claimed the current governance set-up was “heavily criticised as overly complicated and bureaucratic and fail[ed] to represent the health sector in general”.

Applications from aspiring CEOs close on January 31. According to the advertisement:

“This agency will assume strategic management and governance responsibilities for all national digital health strategy, design, development, delivery and operations …

“Reporting to a skills-based Board reflective of the health community, the CEO will initially focus on establishing and transitioning activities to the new Agency. Beyond that, the CEO will be responsible for the strategic leadership, engagement, collaboration, innovation and operations of the national digital health systems.”

The machinery-of-government change was recommended by the 2013 Royle review, which also convinced the government to switch the game plan from an opt-in model to an opt-out arrangement.

The government also took some branding advice from the review, changing “Personally-Controlled Electronic Health Record” to “myHealth Record” as part of what the minister described as a “$485 million rescue package” for the stunted project:

“The decision to transform the PCEHR into a new myHealth Record will also see the system made more user-friendly and better reflect the needs of health professionals, including better alignment with existing clinical workflows within practices, and to ensure additional information such as current medications lists, and known adverse drug interactions are easily identified by practitioners.”

Ley said that as well as improving clinical outcomes, a “fully functioning national e-health system” could be worth $2.5 billion in savings to the federal government and $1.6 billion to states and territories combined. Shortly after her announcement, University of Western Australia e-health expert David Glance expressed deep scepticism that either financial or clinical benefits would materialise at that scale and contended:

“While some of the changes proposed for the personal record may increase general usage of the system, it still remains fundamentally flawed.”

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