Former health CIOs, IT startup luminary to fix troubled eHealth records project


news Two of Australia’s most high-profile chief information officers in the health field have been appointed to sit on a new committee overseeing the Federal Government’s flawed electronic health records initiative, which the Coalition appears determined to revamp.

The PCEHR project was initially funded in the 2010 Federal Budget to the tune of $466.7 million after years of health industry and technology experts calling for development and national leadership in e-health and health identifier technology to better tie together patients’ records and achieve clinical outcomes. The project has been overseen by the Department of Health in coalition with the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).

However, the project has been reported to have suffered extensive problems and has suffered from poor uptake by medical facilities and the public. Due to the issues, on 4 November 2013new Coalition Health Minister Peter Dutton kicked off a promised review of the PCEHR project. The project is now set to continue, but will be significantly revamped under the Coalition.

In the 2015-16 Budget, the Coalition Government announced $485 million for the redevelopment of the now My Health Record system to ‘strengthen and transform national digital health governance’ through an Australian Commission for eHealth.

In a statement late last week, Health Minister Sussan Ley said she had appointed a new Implementation Taskforce Steering Committee to the project which would bring together clinicians, public and private healthcare service providers, consumers, health informatics and analytics specialists, technology innovators and people experienced in delivery of digital health services.

“In this modern world where technology makes information sharing boundless, it is essential Australia has a national digital health system and My Health Record makes up an important part of this system,” Ms Ley said.

“The implementation taskforce steering committee will design, implement and oversee the transition of functions and resources from the Department of Health and the National e-Health Transition Authority to the Australian Commission for eHealth.”

“The Australian Commission for eHealth will simplify and streamline the current governance arrangements and will ensure better accountability, greater transparency and improve stakeholder engagement throughout. The Australian Commission for eHealth will also oversee the operation and evolution of national electronic health systems and will be the system operator of the My Health Record System.”

Minister Ley said in 2016, the Government would conduct trials of different participation arrangements for My Health Record, including moving the platform to an opt-out approach where Australians would need to explicitly choose not to have their details included, to identify the best approaches for increasing participation in the national digital health system.

“It’s important that all Australians are signed up to ensure we have a functioning system and trialling an opt-out model means we can do it carefully, methodically and ensure the appropriate protections are in place to give patients peace of mind,” Ley said.

“If automatic registration for a digital health record in the opt-out trials leads to higher participation in the My Health Record system, the Government will consider adopting opt-out on a national scale.”

The Health Legislation Amendment (eHealth) Bill 2015 was introduced to Parliament recently and includes the allowance of opt-out trials of the My Health Record system to be conducted. It is slated to appear before the House of Representatives this week.

Appearing on the Committee are several high-profile chief information officers.

The first is Paul Madden, who had recently been the CIO of the Federal Department of Health, and is now Deputy Secretary and Strategic Advisor, Strategic Health Systems and Information Management, within the Department.

In this role, Madden supports the Government in leading the national rollout of eHealth initiatives including foundation technologies and related services across Australia, including the continued and improved operation of the My Health Record. Madden was previously program director of the Standard Business Reporting (SBR) Program led from the Australian Treasury from 2007 – 2010.

One of the other high-profile figures on the committee is Michael Walsh. Currently Director-General of Queensland Health, Walsh was previous CEO/CIO of eHealth NSW. He has also previously held senior roles in the Queensland public sector, as well as in the consulting sector.

Another key figure on the committee appears to be Peter Cooper, who is well-known within Australia’s technology startup sector. A number of other figures on the committee are clinicians or otherwise involved in the health technology community.

The project formerly known as the PCEHR has turned into a complete debacle. I hope the respected health IT figures on the Committee — not to mention Cooper, who is also well-respected in Australia’s technology community — are able to pull it back into line. This project shows all the signs of going off the rails further and needs to be very carefully governed from here on in.


  1. It seems that the model used should be questioned rather than just rename and change to opt-out. The transactions logged to the system for 2.2 million clients was 24,000 shared health summaries, 118,000 discharge summaries and 10,000 GP event summaries. This is a inadequate result for $600 plus million spent so far? This system serves no useful purpose, so why spend another $455 million without revisiting the flawed business case? The original project was started in 2003 and Deloites pumped up the estimated savings to $20 billion for a total cost of $9 billion over 15 years. These savings have not been realised. From an estimated expenditure of $322 million the cost blew out to $566 million by 2012. One look at the eHealth website site is enough to show stale idealistic outdated ideas and resources from the flawed original justification. This system is a bureaucratic nightmare about to rise again from the dead and waste more billions of taxpayers money. Please stop now and reconsider the basic model. The key to the use of eHealth is to establish better personal GP records and not build massive central data repositories.

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