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Outsourcing to heal e-health woes

The National E-Health Transition Authority has accepted all recommendations made by a Boston Consulting Group review, including suggestions to step up recruitment by outsourcing, offshore recruitment and creative contractual arrangements.

The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) has accepted all recommendations made by a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) review, including suggestions to step up recruitment by outsourcing, offshore recruitment and creative contractual arrangements.

NEHTA -- a collaborative enterprise owned by the Australian federal, state and territory governments -- was started on 29 July 2004 following another report by BCG concluding there were too many small, loosely coordinated e-health initiatives underway. The report recommended a single central body be set up instead.

NEHTA was intended to develop standards, clinical terminologies and patient and provider identifiers by mid 2009. It received initial funding of AU$23 million in 2005, followed by AU$130 million from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2006.

BCG was asked to undertake a two-year review to evaluate NEHTA's progress and make recommendations on how the Authority should proceed with its work.

Although the review said that 90 percent of 2006/07 goals had been met, recruiting delays are leading to persistent under-spending of the NEHTA budget of between 20 to 50 percent across its workstreams, according to BCG.

Staff recruitment is a critical issue according to BCG, and needs to be addressed by alternative approaches to sourcing skilled staff. NEHTA should investigate outsourcing, where suitable insourcing of expert teams from systems integrators, hiring of higher-paid and skilled temporary contractors who typically shun salaried appointments, and offshore recruiting, the report added.

NEHTA's response -- an Action Plan for Adoption Success, released yesterday -- says that the Authority already has staff working in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne, to help alleviate the severity of the skills crisis by giving employees a choice of employment location, but admits that it has been harder to attract suitable candidates and that it already has a focus on overseas recruitment to find experienced staff.

To access overseas employees with the specialised skills NEHTA needs, the Authority has tapped markets including the UK, USA, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Lithuania, New Zealand and Canada by engaging international recruitment consultants and offering contracts and short term secondments to secure resources in niche areas.

In relation to the BCG's outsourcing recommendation: "NEHTA has embarked on a range of procurement processes in the past to secure deliverables (and the associated knowledge) through external parties", the plan says, adding NEHTA will deepen its involvement in outsourcing, and consider outsourcing two areas of its operations: building, operating and transferring the Technical Reference Platform that will be used to support the implementation process; and building, operating and transferring the Conformance, Compliance and Accreditation system.

The outsourcing will not be limited to these areas however.

Implementing BCG's other suggestion of establishing capacity contracts with large systems integrators to utilise their staff for certain capabilities, will require reviewing the revised work plans to see where such a strategy could be most useful, according to NEHTA. The Authority believes that this could be completed by February 2008.