NEHTA denies stakeholder 'gag'

Members of the National E-Health Transition Authority's (NEHTA) new stakeholder group have not been gagged, the outgoing CEO of the publicly funded company said today.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Members of the National E-Health Transition Authority's (NEHTA) new stakeholder group have not been gagged, the outgoing CEO of the publicly funded company said today.

NEHTA, the federal and state government funded company set up in 2001 to establish technology standards for Australia's e-health systems, recently created a stakeholder reference forum to address criticisms that it had not adequately engaged medical, clinical and consumer stakeholders.


Members of the new forum met for the first time in July to agree upon NEHTA's immediate objectives. But while the group's aim was to help it communicate with stakeholders, including the public, members are prevented from talking with media.

"It was reported that we were gagging members and that's certainly not the intent," outgoing acting NEHTA CEO Andrew Howard told ZDNet.com.au today.

Howard said that the gag order was so that NEHTA could share more information, not less, and was in line with normal corporate standards. "NEHTA is a company that has responsibilities and the directors of it have liabilities that any company has," he said.

"It's about being able to engage with members and share budget figures, issues and taking feedback from that forum. There could be a point where we could discuss the inner workings of the company, which means they need to be covered by confidentiality arrangements."

A major challenge for Australia's e-health plans has been achieving consensus amongst state health agencies and medical providers on how to transition away from paper-based systems.

"Today that common vision does exist... Right now there is a focus on high value transaction services and standardising information so that clinicians can access it at the point of care," said Howard.

The first e-health obstacles that stakeholder reference forum members wanted NEHTA to tackle included systems to support electronic discharge summaries, pathology reports, specialist referrals and medication management notes.

"If you look back two years ago those discussions weren't in the Australian marketplace," said Howard.

A blessing and a curse for NEHTA has been Australians' belief that e-health systems already exist, according to Howard. "People just think those systems are in place," he said.

The upshot of that misperception was that it was apparent there was public demand for e-health. "As a result, you will see an acceleration of e-health and a much stronger national focus from the public and private sector," the executive added.

NEHTA's board has only recently approved the work program for the next year, which Howard said included "actively participating in the implementation of systems" at state health organisations, which he expects to be heavily involved in when he takes up his role again as CIO of Victoria's Department of Human Services, which he left temporarily to lead NEHTA after the group's long-standing CEO Ian Reinecke left in April this year.

"NEHTA is working closely with Queensland Health for [electronic] discharge summaries... As we go through those implementations, that will inform NEHTA so that others will be able to learn from lessons in Queensland," Howard said.

The reference forum's next meeting will occur on 29 September, the same day Howard's replacement, newly appointed NEHTA CEO Peter Fleming, is due to start work.

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