Queensland Health Accused of Bias Towards IT Supplier Cerner Corporation [Australia]

Koren Helbig | The Courier-Mail | January 23, 2012

QUEENSLAND Health is again facing accusations it favoured an IT supplier that became the frontrunner for a multimillion-dollar government contract.

Confidential papers show a Health boss already was in talks with software company Cerner Corporation at least a year before consultants were hired to conduct an external investigation into potential suppliers. The electronic medical records project was even given the codename "Project Mango" to avoid constantly naming Cerner in official correspondence, the papers said.

Queensland Health chief information officer Ray Brown rejected suggestions of favouritism by Queensland Health as "ridiculous", saying an independent probity adviser had reviewed the process and found no reason to believe Cerner was treated with undue bias. But Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the procurement was biased. "It really throws into doubt the whole procurement process and really casts a cloud over how the Government operates with public funds," he said.

A confidential briefing note to Health Minister Geoff Wilson, obtained by the Opposition under Right to Information laws, shows former chief information officer Paul Summergreene initiated discussions about the project with NSW Health and Cerner before his contract was terminated in August 2008. The project was not put out to tender and consultants were not hired to investigate other potential suppliers until July 2009.

The consultants report was called into question last September when The Courier-Mail revealed claims that health bureaucrats ordered last-minute changes to guarantee Cerner the contract.

Open Health News' Take: 

Graft and corruption charges may not be the only problem with this Cerner implementation, according to this article titled Coast Medical Records System 'Dangerous' from July 6, 2012, "Senior doctors say Gold Coast Heath's new multimillion dollar electronic medical record system is 'inadequate and dangerous' and could put patients' lives at risk. Doctors have complained about the system, saying some patient documents are missing, it has log-in problems and 10-minute delays in accessing critical information.

According to the Gold Coast article written by Stephanie Bedo, "Queensland Health spent about $200 million on the electronic medical record roll-out last year, which was delayed by 12 months because of problems with the software provider." A lot of money to spend on a system that is "inadequate and dangerous." Queensland Health should have implemented the open source VistA system instead. Based on the dozens of VistA hospital install in the USA and the rest of the world, the likelihood is that for a fraction of the money and in a fraction of the time Queensland Health would have had a fully featured and functional world-class EHR system. And one that would have made all the physicians happy.

This is not the end of the story, however. The June 29 issue of Computerworld UK has an article titled "US hospital takes legal action against Cerner - why it matters to the NHS." The article details how a small hospital in Kansas, USA, is taking legal action against Cerner for a botched implementation. The article states "Joel Schectman, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, has researched the case of a small hospital in Kansas that is blaming Cerner for the failure of an electronic medical records project."

According to the article, "The Girard Medical Center is a small rural hospital that takes in mainly uninsured patients and the elderly. Its executives wanted an electronic medical record system to improve the sharing of information with its clinic offshoots and to claim federal incentives. But, says the Wall Street Journal, Girard spent 18 months and more than $1m without being closer to having electronic medical records. It is blaming its supplier Cerner for the failure."

Computerworld UK adds that "Cerner is one of the world's largest suppliers of e-record systems. In the UK Cerner is supplied by BT under the National Programme for IT [NPfIT]. It also supplies NHS trusts directly." -- Roger A. Maduro, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Open Health News.