Research firm Gartner has stepped in to defend a report at the centre of allegations Queensland Health was biased in choosing a provider for its $182 million state-wide electronic medical record.
Senior departmental staff were alleged to have requested changes from the authors of a 2009 Gartner report to favour e-health provider Cerner over other bidders for the project.
Confidential emails between Queensland Health chief information officer Ray Brown, senior e-health director Tam Shepherd and staff were obtained and published by shadow health minister Mark McArdle under state Right to Information laws last week.
The emails [pdf] revealed that Graham Bretag of the department's e-health contract and vendor management e-health division had asked Gartner to alter a column denoting Cerner as the only company having a "generation three" computer-based patient record (CPR) installation in Australia.
Bretag had also asked for "unambiguous clarification" that rival bidders Lorenzo and i.CM did not having the same level of installation locally.
Gartner's report highlighted a total of five bidders with installations in Australia at differing "generations" of capability.
The authors had agreed to make the changes, according to the emails.
However, Gartner's Asia Pacific head of research Ian Bertram told iTnews the changes were part of the usual fact-checking process undertaken by the research firm during authoring of the report.
The changes did not change the recommendations or conclusions of the report, he said.
"In this case it was just a fact clarification, having a look at the exact same data but just calling out more explicity which CPR gen 3 was installed in Australia," he said.
Gartner had approached all potential bidders for the project, as well as the department, to partake in the process.
"There was a raft of different recommendations that we came to," Bertram said.
"We never, in our engagement, said there was one clear winner. That's not what we were engaged to do, we were engaged to help put together selection criteria to help them go out and find a [winner]."
Bertram said the change was absolutely factual and did not place Cerner in a more favourable light.
As a "generation three" install, Cerner systems were shown to have integrated pharmaceutical functionality and cover both ambulatory and acute care settings.
Gartner's framework used a scale of five generations, with each level delineated by certain minimum requirements.
Queensland Health chief information officer Brown denied any wrongdoing on the behalf of departmental staff.
"Independent probity experts, governance experts and lawyers reviewed the process adopted by Queensland Health, raised no concerns with actions taken, and confirmed the process was appropriate," he said.
The probity report had found procurement processes were consistent and "undertaken with attention to transparency and fair dealing".
Brown said the probity adviser had found there was "no reason to believe Cerner has been treated with undue bias in any of the procurement processes, communications or stages".
iTnews was denied access to the report by Queensland Health.
The department also confirmed that Shephard resigned from his position last week, as initial allegations against the procurement processes were first made.
Shepherd would take on a chief executive role in the primary health sector.
Green light for Cerner
In the two years since receiving Gartner's report, Queensland Health has forged ahead with the Cerner product but has yet to finalise contracts following a pilot of the system.
"Our frontline staff and key users of the product felt very strongly that we should use the same system that was adopted in NSW and Victoria, while applying the lessons they learned in implementation," Brown said.
"That's exactly what we have done."
Cerner's FirstNet clinical information system has been criticised by emergency department directors and clinicians in NSW for usability issues that affected critical health systems.
The state consequently commissioned, but has yet to publish its response to, an independent report of the FirstNet implementation by Deloitte.
McArdle this week referred Queensland Health situation to the state's Auditor-General, calling for a more detailed review of market competition for the tender, approval from the Health Minister's office and total costs to date.
Queensland Health had already been under the auditor's spotlight over continuing issues around its bungled SAP payroll implementation last year.
In June, the Queensland Audit Office reported that Health had been forced to write off more than $1.3 million in overpayments of $200 or less (pdf).
The report revealed that the state government had received repeated warnings from internal parties and independent firms dating back to 2007 around governance issues.
Queensland Health's payroll bungle itself ultimately led to a review of the state's corporate shared services model and chief information office.
Earlier this month, the department appointed former Mincom and eServGlobal chief executive Richard Mathews to its Human Resource Services division to deliver payroll improvements that were outlined last November (pdf).
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Issue: 315 | May 2013
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