NEHTA looks offshore to end e-health delays

Skills review to be completed by February 2008

Struggling to recruit the necessary IT skills base required to push forward Australia's e-health reform agenda, the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) is looking to offshore outsourcing and other contractual measures to fill the resources gap.

Admitting the national IT skills shortage will result in serious "delays in delivery" for Australia's e-health framework, NEHTA is currently operating up to 50 per cent under budget due to recruiting delays.

The decision to look offshore for IT staff is necessary to ensure the implementation of electronic health records can begin in 2008 and follows an independent review of Australia's e-health framework by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The review examined NEHTA's progress since it was established in 2005 and found "labour capacity constraints" in the local market has forced timelines to be revised.

According to the BCG report e-health reforms are suffering from significant staffing shortfalls pointing out that: "ongoing shortfalls during the current financial year is likely to cause irreversible delivery delays. The biggest challenge has been recruiting staff and the increased resources required is extraordinary, roughly a doubling of personnel spend every year up until 2009."

This shortage has made it impossible to put standards in place for secure messaging with the report claiming NEHTA has been unable to "engage with users and standard bodies or build up accreditation or compliance."

To address the problem funding has increased to over $1.5 million in the 2007/8 financial year to try and overcome "under-resourcing issues" for the development of secure messaging standards.

A review is also underway to identify areas in urgent need of staffing and is expected to reach completion in February 2008.

The BCG report states: "There are more jobs than there are candidates in the market. NEHTA needs to accelerate resourcing through outsourcing, offshore recruiting and more creative contractual arrangements. This includes capacity contracts with large systems integrators to utilise their staff on a set basis to deliver a set of capability."

This includes business analysts, developers and architects. NEHTA also needs five experienced solution architects for a year to work on the design of messaging within domains. Once standards are well established they must be integrated with existing systems, the report said.

"Offshore recruiting of experienced technical staff from countries which have major e-health programs underway, including transfer incentives such as relocation allowances, for experts from the UK, Canada and the US could be beneficial," the report said.

"As the pace of implementation accelerates NEHTA risks losing skilled staff to higher-paid contracting and consulting opportunities."

Responding to the skills crisis, NEHTA today released an action plan for the implemention of electronic medical records in 2008.

The Board of NEHTA has endorsed a business case for developing a national platform for personal electronic health records to be put to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) early next year.

COAG is the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, comprising the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA).

NEHTA secured $130 million in funding from COAG to deliver on its e-health reforms. This includes unique identifiers which are central to an e-health system. Unique identifiers link individuals to patient care records.

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