Misfortune or carelessness: the year 2020

Along with “novel coronavirus”, “social distancing” and “hydroxychloroquine”, “contact tracing apps” will go down as one of the most notable additions to the pandemic lexicon. They have certainly proved controversial as privacy concerns run headlong into public health necessities, and few if any have proved overly useful.

New Zealand's COVID Tracer app hasn't been hugely successful so far with fewer than 600,000 downloads, but thankfully it hasn't really needed to be. However, with one eye on the second wave plaguing Victoria, the NZ government has announced it is going to trial a new wearable Bluetooth alternative called CovidCard that has been strongly promoted by business groups and some academics.

As a hardware solution, rolling it out to the entire population of NZ will cost a fortune, so there is understandable caution being shown. The card is set to be trialled by 250-300 people to see if it would be any more successful or even useful than an app. We'll see if the people of Rotorua embrace it.

On this side of the pond, it's hard to get a handle on whether Australia's CovidSafe app has been useful at all. Various reports say it has in NSW but not in Victoria, and thankfully so far it hasn't been needed elsewhere. It may be the case that an adjunct app such as the Apple-Google API alternative could be rolled out but the powers that be seem keen to stick to the one they've got, and getting people to download yet another app seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, we hope to look into what technology the state health department contact tracers are using in their day to day work, which will be important on a national scale when the borders are eventually re-opened. We suspect there's a lot of Excel spreadsheets and generic CRM solutions doing the hard yards, but if you know differently, let us know here.

In other news, there were a few high-profile departures this week. Canterbury DHB is losing its long-time CEO David Meates in a surprise resignation, following so soon after its head of planning, Carolyn Gullery. Both were heavily involved in Canterbury's integrated care strategy and both championed the development of the South Island's HealthOne system after the Christchurch earthquakes. Canterbury's finances have been in a perilous state for some time and there has been intense pressure to reduce the deficit. The word is that Mr Meates finally got the pip with being asked to cut non-existent fat from patient care and decided to call it a day.

The Australian Digital Health Agency also lost one of the last members of the inaugural executive team put together when it transitioned from NEHTA. National health CIO Ronan O'Connor, who was recruited by his former NHS colleague Tim Kelsey to run the core systems operations including the My Health Record in 2017, will be joining Mr Kelsey at HIMSS in a couple of months. He'll remain in Australia for the rest of the year before heading back to the UK next year.

ADHA has seen off almost all its original executive team in reasonably quick succession, including innovation chief Rachel De Sain, CCIO Monica Trujillo, Mr Kelsey and now Mr O'Connor. Chief operating officer Bettina McMahon resigned last year but has stayed on while Mr Kelsey's replacement was sourced, and chief medical adviser Meredith Makeham also moved on just recently.

The new CEO is expected to be announced shortly and will be given the opportunity to influence the selection of his or her executive team. Given ADHA has not exactly been at the forefront of Australia's response to the pandemic besides helping to move along the roll-out of electronic prescribing, we don't think there needs to be too much hurry in getting anyone new in place.

We plan to watch with interest this weekend as the Parkville precinct in Melbourne goes live with its new Epic EMR. Good luck to you all. We'll also watch with interest as WA makes moves to prepare for its statewide EMR. The WA government has just announced it has found a bit of cash to begin the planning for the system. We expect the tender process to begin next year.

The ACT is also planning to roll out an EMR, and in our poll last week we asked: Is an Epic big bang the right strategy for ACT Health? 60 per cent said yes, 40 per cent said no.

This week, we ask:

Has ADHA assisted in Australia's pandemic response?

Vote yes or no here and feel free to add in your comments.

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