20 October 2011
Health department chief information officer Paul Madden says draft specifications will be “guaranteed not to change” – except in the case of system errors – during the first two years of operation of the $500 million personally controlled e-health record system.
The technical specs are urgently needed as Health Minister Nicola Roxon has committed to a July 1, 2012 starting date for the nationwide patient information-sharing program.
Rollout is proceeding, despite concerns primarily from the software industry that a lack of standards risks massive future costs in fixing non-compliant systems.
Mr Madden rejected the IT industry’s criticism over a “tiger team” approach intended to fast-track technical specifications, saying the department and the National e-Health Transition Authority were not departing from the normal standards-setting process.
“We are committed to using the Standards Australia process through the IT-014 committee,” he told a Senate estimates hearing last night.
“The first step in the process is the development of specifications and guidance material on how to use these things, and we are publishing those documents in October and November so that software vendors wishing to get involved can start providing those services to their users early.
“Somewhere between February and July next year, they will certainly have the guidance material to be able to do so.
“But it is our complete expectation that those specifications will continue their normal track through the standards-setting process and they’ll emerge somewhere around July 2012.”
Mr Madden said software vendors had been offered a change control process that would “give them certainty and stability that systems built on those specifications will be guaranteed to continue working and that we will continue to support those specifications” for a two-year period.
“The expectation from software vendors is that standards give you stability, they don’t change very quickly across time, so they (are getting) that same guarantee in relation to the (new) specifications,” he said.
Mr Madden said the specifications to be published on October 31 would be “consumed and reviewed” by the lead implementation sites on the basis of, “we’ve seen the earlier versions of those, we understand some of the pitfalls and we’re briefing the software vendors (involved in those sites) as well”.
“We fully expect that those sites will be the first adopters of the specifications that come out in October and November,” he said.
“If there are things that change as a result of their implementations, well, we’ll upgrade those (specifications) as we go, but that would only be if there proved to be system errors as opposed to, we thought of a better idea.”
National e-Health Transition Authority chief executive Peter Fleming said the organisation had been using the tiger teams process internally for several years, including for the development of standards related to the Healthcare Identifiers program.
“This is not a process that has been underway for one month in terms of specifications being developed, it has been happening for a long period of time,” Mr Fleming said.
“It is absolutely not bypassing the processes of Standards Australia.”
The Australian has previously been told that members of SA’s IT-014 committees had not heard of the tiger teams prior to this month.
Mr Fleming said the teams comprised representatives from stakeholder groups including clinicians, technicians and vendors.
“Through those teams we put together a series of specifications which (will be) tested and reviewed through the lead sites, and then put though the SA process thereafter,” he said.
In response to questions from Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, in her debut estimates hearing, Mr Madden said the PCEHR infrastructure and patient registration process was expected to be in place by July 1 next year.
“(That’s why) we are doing what we can to provide software vendors with the guidance material and the testing facilities (so they can) get products into the hands of users, being the GPs and the hospitals,” Mr Madden said.
“We also have a change and adoption partner working with the healthcare professional community, looking at how to get them to the point where they demand those services and use them.
“So we’re doing all those things at the same time – to get the software in place, to get the demand and the ability and willingness to use that, and also to understand what things (clinicians) will need to do to get that data quality lifted to a standard where they can transact electronically and (safely) share patient records with other clinicians.”