eHealth takes a kicking in the latest round of political football

Some projects are always going to generate controversy. Any project involving changing work practices for medical clinicians is not only technically complicated – it is bound to be a political football, and an easy target for the media.

All it takes is one disgruntled employee, and the change management process becomes much more complicated. In the last 2 weeks, with election fever in full swing in NSW, I have seen not one – but two major eHealth projects become political footballs.

FootballFirst cab off the rank is the NSW FirstNet project – a complex long term project which is being rolled out across NSW hospitals, to collect patient care data and automate aspects of emergency department work practices.

The NSW FastNet project has faced long running criticism from insiders opposing changes to workplace practices. It has faced problems with the software implementation, and employees refusing to enter data into the system. The concerted campaign by some clinicians to oppose the eHealth project is documented in this essay by a vocal opponent of the FastNet project – Jon Patrick at the Health Information Technology Research department of the University of Sydney.

So it came as no great surprise to see the report recycled for the election – hitting the headlines here, and on the ABC – with some media claiming that politicians are now promising to junk the eHealth project.

The other major eHealth initiative coming under fire is the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (rather imaginatively referred to as the PCEHR) being run by NEHTA at a federal level.

The PCEHR project is intended to allow Australians to voluntarily have their medical treatment information recorded systematically by the government, and accessible electronically by any doctor treating them. When I discuss this concept with people, it is amazing how many people think this information is already available to doctors who treat them.

Well, it seems that there is a coalition of lobbyists gunning to shelve the PCEHR project as well. A recent senate estimate hearing heard that NEHTA is not subject to freedom of information requests, which was a free kick for opponents peddling conspiracy theories. This media report in Delimiter outlines claims from lobbyists that the community consultation process is flawed, and that any centralised record of medical treatment (which coincidentally is the entire purpose of the PCEHR project) is suspect.

Strong project ownership in the leadership team can make or break any project facing vocal opposition. With a coach on the bench, strategic communication and transparent stakeholder consultation can help you regain possession – even in situations were a project is taking a kicking.

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