Pulse+IT is not alone in criticising certain digital platforms developed by various governments for healthcare and we are certainly not going to stop now, but we are happy to give credit where credit is due when it comes to good systems that appear to work. In particular, we’d like to laud the improvements made to myGov, which was an absolute trainwreck in its early days but has now become a reasonably seamless operation.
Pulse+IT’s Tasmanian correspondent has had the great good fortune to live in close proximity to one of the quarantine hotels called into action recently to house seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands. From what we can tell, some locals returning from the Indian subcontinent who have to do their two weeks in isolation have been housed there too. But it is the Samoan guests in particular who have become famous down our way for their fantastic spirits while isolating for the past fortnight, and for the joy they have given voice to.
With no local infections recorded for the last 400+ days we are in a good position in Tasmania – recently voted one of the best places in the world in which to ride out an apocalypse, along with New Zealand, Iceland and Ireland – so the residents of the quarantine hotels have been given a little leeway and allowed out on the balconies to enjoy the Hobart winter and regale us with their song. They have been marvellous – if you haven’t heard about them, click here and here. The other guests have also been in good spirits and have been laughing and chatting and waving to passers-by, which we have enjoyed immensely.
The pain for the locked down people of NSW continued this week and got worse on Friday, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian calling the situation in her state a national emergency, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews calling for a ring of steel around greater Sydney and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bursting the trans-Tasman bubble and rolling up the shutters on quarantine-free travel for the next two months.
Yesterday, Ms Berejiklian pleaded with Sydneysiders to get vaccinated, including under 40s to consider getting AstraZeneca, which Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the state was “awash” with. “If you’re under 40 and want AstraZeneca, please, please check with your GP,” she said. “If your GP gives you the green light, please get the vaccine. Please, please, come forward and get vaccinated.”
Our blog from last week on the difficulties some people have had trying to find and book in for a vaccination took on extra meaning this week, as metropolitan Sydney’s outbreak worsened and Melbourne snapped into a hopefully short and sharp lockdown. Vaccination is the key to all of us getting out of this, but besides the problem with adequate supply in Australia and late supply in New Zealand, it’s our IT systems that we are relying on to help us navigate our way out of disaster.
NSW Health’s systems are among those that have come in for a lot of criticism, and confusion still reigns over what exactly they plan to do about it, but we have also been closely watching what each state and territory in Australia is doing, along with the national system in New Zealand.
The IT solutions behind Australia’s and New Zealand’s COVID-19 responses have come in for some questioning over the 18 months of the pandemic, and no one seems to agree on whether they have proven to be effective or not, whether it be mobile phone proximity apps like Australia’s COVIDsafe (general consensus: dud) or QR code check-in systems (thumbs up).
They all do appear to be quite expensive though, which is nothing new, and as always when there are copious amounts of public money on offer, hands immediately reach out. This has never been more true than in the roll-out of online booking, inventory management, and vaccination registration systems on a jurisdictional and national scale.
On 20 March 2020, Australia closed its international borders as case numbers of COVID-19 exploded around the globe. Fifteen months later, NSW Health has still not been able to deliver a robust booking system to support the state’s vaccination efforts, with the current mashup of hastily implemented technology riddled with problems.
As is also the case for other Australians, to attempt to book their vaccination, NSW residents start their digital journey at the HealthDirect website where they input some basic information into an online Vaccine Eligibility Checker.
Much has been said over the last 18 months about how the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a revolution in digital health adoption, but there’s a chance these predictions might turn out to be a bit overhyped, particularly when it comes to telehealth (or telephone health as it probably should be named for now).
What has become more obvious as the pandemic has drawn out is the benefit of automation when it comes to health service efficiency, especially in under-the-radar areas like practice management system interoperability, which may well trigger longer term benefits than the tech du jour.
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