Buggy journalism called to account

by Charles Wright on July 25, 2012

We students of Dearne-alism have been enjoying a veritable feast of sub-optimal journalism over the past couple of weeks, as The Australian’s anti-ehealth roundsman has been cementing her reputation for getting stuff wrong.

There was that piece last week, for instance, that claimed GPs would have to wait three years before they could receive hospital discharge summaries, because State and territory health departments were supposedly not going to be able to verify the identify of individual medical staff.

Wrong. Quite wrong.

That was followed by an extraordinary beat-up which used an overseas visitor’s general comments on international ehealth developments as the peg for the following opening gambit: “Designers of Australia’s electronic health system are more intent on capturing data than using existing information to improve patient care.” I beg your pardon? Where’s the evidence for that, for God’s sake?

That story included the claim – by Mikael Hagstrom, vice-president of SAS, “a global leader in data analysis software” – that, “When we look at most national ehealth systems being rolled out, it’s redoing what we’ve already tried, namely forcing nurses to retype patient data into a different storage environment, with all the associated errors and infrastructure costs.”

If you weren’t alert to the sort of trickery that seems to be routine for The Australian these days, you might have assumed, since the opening paragraph is about the design of Australia’s electronic health system, that right here in this country, we’re intent on exposing our nurses to the dangers of RSI. Perhaps it’s true overseas – there’s nothing in the story to support the claim – but it’s certainly not true here.

Dearne’s associate, Fran Foo, must have been getting anxious about maintaining her required quota of made-up stories in the national daily, because she then came up with an absolute pearler of a yarn: a piece which declared that “The Gillard government knowingly launched the national ehealth records system despite warnings from its own ehealth agency that it had more than 60 high-severity and critical bugs.”

You can imagine the scenario, can’t you? A senior cabinet minister, possibly the Prime Minister herself, tells some spluttering NEHTA executive to launch the ship, despite the fact that it’s likely to sink as soon as it clears the slipway. Yep, that’s credible. If you’re a complete moron.

DoHA seems in the past to have allowed all this umm, misinformation, to go through to the keeper. Today, however, it released a statement:

A national system that allowed people to register for an eHealth record from 1 July was delivered on time and within budget.

No critical defects remained at the time of release and to date more than 3,500 people have registered for an eHealth record.

The release of the eHealth record system was based appropriately on advice from experts in IT, cyber-security and system operations overseeing the project.

The system went through thorough testing, defect resolution and assurance processes prior to going live, including checks by IT and cyber-security experts at the Defence, Finance and Attorney-General’s departments.

A ‘fit for purpose’ statement was also provided by the National E-Health Transition Authority.

Detecting, analysing, prioritising and fixing bugs is standard practice in the development of any new IT system.

The Department and its partners also continue to actively test and monitor the eHealth record system to detect and fix any bugs before they impact users.

To reiterate, there were no defects that affected security or clinical safety of consumer records at the time of release.

That’s pretty clear. Not one “high-severity and critical bug”. Not one. Let’s see now. Zero is considerably less than 60, isn’t it?

And that figure of more than 3500 people registering for the PCEHR is pretty positive, isn’t it, given that 87 per cent of them registered online. That’s 3099 people, by my reckoning, which is rather a lot, seeing that we’ve been assured that online registration doesn’t work, is all too hard, etc., etc.



Freddy July 30, 2012 at 7:41 am

At the time of release there were no consumer records, so of course there were no records affected by defects.

It all comes down to who you trust – a press release by spin doctors or statements from anonymous whistleblowers.

Personally I’m inclined to believe the whistleblowers.

Howard July 31, 2012 at 7:45 am

I recall Queensland Health faced a similar problem with high-severity and critical bugs on the payroll system, there fix to this – manupulate the risk table so they could be recasts as lessor risks.

Sadly no one told the system and what started as a reasonable cost has now blown out of all proportion

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