No vendor with half a brain would sign a developer contract with Medicare to work on software as part of the government's e-health agenda, National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) national clinical lead Dr Mukesh Haikerwal said this morning.
When asked at an Australian Information Industry Association e-health forum in Sydney this morning why just 14 out of the 80 software developers who had a developer's kit had signed a developer's agreement with Medicare, Haikerwal said he wouldn't hide from the problem.
"I think the contracts — and this is on the public record and I've said this to the people responsible — the contracts the vendors have been asked to sign are not the sort ... that anyone with half a brain would want to sign," he said.
"If you're going to be fair dinkum about getting the vendor involved in this space you've got to make a contract that they can adhere to. [A contract] that is reasonable and is deliverable and you can't put belts and braces on them and hold them back and tie both hands behind their back and then say, now you've got to play in this space," he added.
"So I wholeheartedly agree there are problems with the contracts. And we've got to make it better. My job is to make it better. If they don't like me saying it, they can sack me that's fine. I'm very happy to go somewhere else."
Despite teething problems with getting developers onboard, the benefits e-health offered would be immediate for clinicians, Haikerwal said. In his own clinic he identified that secure messaging offered by e-health could potentially save up to $30,000 a year in the cost of scanning and sending patient documents manually.
Haikerwal admitted that delivering personally controlled e-health records in just two years was a big ask, and said that NEHTA needed help from the IT industry to meet its goals.
"The problem is we can make it too big, too cumbersome and too much to deliver in two years. We have to deliver $466.7 million in two years to 22 million Australians," he said. "We have to go wide, we have to go thin, we've got to make it work, we've got to make it useful."
To facilitate discussions with industry and health professionals, Haikerwal said that NEHTA was putting together five roundtables between now and 17 November with the IT industry, allied health, pharmacy, dentists, and clinicians. The IT industry roundtable is scheduled for 1 November.
"We have some ideas at NEHTA, we've worked with government for some ideas, we want to walk you through those and give you options and hear what you think about them," he said. "This is not engagement, this is not consultation, this is not ticking a box. I don't work like that. If we're going to get you guys on the table this has to be a proper discussion. Not just being talked at but listened to."
Haikerwal stressed that identifiers were not the be-all and end-all of e-health but were very important to bring together information technology and the people to use it.
"This is not e-health, this is not the answer to the IT sector. To me it is the catalyst," he added. "If you can do two simple things as a health professional: write to a record, and read from a record in a certain way, it means that you can then join other doctors who are doing the same thing. But to do that you will need to have the capacity."
After the roundtables have been conducted, Haikerwal indicated that NEHTA may organise a national conference on e-health towards the end of the year.