news Queensland’s Department of Health has kicked off one of the largest IT modernisation projects in the state’s history, outlining a solid $1.26 billion in planned investment to bring its IT systems into the modern age and advertising for a chief information officer to lead the ’20-year’ strategy.
Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Cameron Dick told a CEDA lunch this week, according to a statement issued by the Queensland Government, that Queensland Health needed new ICT systems in four primary categories – clinical systems, business systems, ICT infrastructure and the digital future of Queensland Health.
The department has published a detailed strategy document (PDF) listing its planned costs for the initiative. They include a whopping $730 million on clinical systems, $300 million for ICT infrastructure, $100 million for business systems, and $130 million for the ‘digital future’ category, which is billed as including information interoperability and eHealth foundations. News of the strategy appears to have been broken by iTnews (see also iTnews’ article regarding the department’s CIO hire).
Minister Dick said the Government estimated about 1,000 jobs would be created through the implementation of the strategy, and the private sector was invited to help the Government out.
“We need flexible, cooperative solutions that share the risk of development and implementation with private sector,” he said. “I want to place on record an open invitation to industry to come to us with options and solutions to some of our complex problems.”
Minister Dick said the next big ICT project in the Queensland Health system will be at Princess Alexandra Hospital, which is planning to be a “digital hospital” by the end of the year.
This will involve not only the upgrade of core infrastructure and new technology to support digital workflows, but also elements such as rapid access tap-on-tap-off for all computers, which will save clinicians 30 minutes each day. There will also be additional technology to support digital workflows – 200 additional work stations on wheels, 770 barcode scanners, 250 pathology label printers and 160 patient wrist band printers.
“There will still be a very limited requirement for some paper applications, but having the ability to quickly transfer patient data and clinical notes between treatment teams will keep patients at the centre of the hospital’s work,” the Minister said.
“For clinicians, it will streamline what is currently called ‘paperwork’ and will free them up for direct care and engagement with patients. We have learnt the lessons of the past. At the moment the system is due to go live in November. What I can also tell you today is that unless the system is proven to be clinically safe when it goes live, then it will be delayed.”
“Over the coming years, all Queensland hospitals will move towards this level of digitisation, making what happens at PA an important role model for the future.”
Separately, Queensland Health has also advertised for a new chief information officer role to lead the new eHealth Queensland group which will lead the new strategy.
The job ad states: “Reporting to the Director-General and as a member of Queensland Health’s Departmental Leadership Team, the Chief Executive Officer/CIO of eHealth Queensland will lead the information technology and eHealth agenda for the State, managing the organisation as an innovative, efficient and effective provider of information technology services for a range of stakeholders across Queensland’s public health system.”
Leaving the organisation will be Malcolm Thatcher, who for the past year has led Queensland Health’s IT operation as its interim chief information officer.
Thatcher noted in a post on his LinkedIn profile that he is planning to return to his previous role at Mater Hospitals, but also that he was completing his doctoral thesis in IT Governance.
Queensland Health has suffered a number of high-profile technology-related failures over the years. In particular, its botched implementation of a payroll systems upgrade has become notorious in Australia’s IT industry for the way it blew out in cost to the tune of $1.4 billion, and the problems it created with the payroll of the state’s huge health workforce, with many health workers not being paid at all, or being overpaid.
The project was the subject of a Commission of Inquiry and is still the subject of legal action between the State Government and IBM, which Queensland has banned from further contracts with the state’s public sector as a result of the failed project.
In April 2012, it was reported that an eHealth program being delivered by Queensland Health was at least two years late.
I’d like to be positive about this strategy, I really would. But come on, people! It’s Queensland Health — a department which has an appalling track record of delivering major IT projects over the past half-decade and beyond. The department which bungled the delivery of a new payroll system so badly that it ended up costing some $1.4 billion, ended up the subject of a Commission of Inquiry and countless audits, and is still not functioning entirely correctly (to my knowledge).
I don’t personally believe the way forward for Queensland Health’s ICT infrastructure is to throw a billion dollars at huge projects over a twenty year time frame. That approach has just not worked in the past, and tends not to work at all in Governments.
The reality is that in a few years’ time, Queensland may have a new Government with new priorities. Those new priorities may include drastic changes to this IT modernisation strategy. Nothing — nothing at all — last 20 years in politics, and it is impossible to provide certainty over that time frame for a strategy of this nature.
Instead of this kind of huge, overarching strategy, what I would vastly prefer Queensland Health to be doing right now is constant, small iteration. Fix a small thing, then move on to extending those lessons to the next small thing. Continually iterate and get continual small victories on small projects. Then start rolling those up into bigger projects, always being wary of the pitfalls of political cycles. Keep stepping upward, one small step at a time.
But gradual, incremental change doesn’t make good headlines, does it? And it certainly wouldn’t allow Labor to claim it was creating 1,000 new jobs in Queensland Health. Today’s announcement is as much political as it is technical. And it’s the politics that will come to bedevil it in the end.