Patient referral system under fire

A new electronic patient referral system, evaluated as being the most expensive and least suitable, has been adopted by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board.

Electronics Referral Management System (ERMS) was selected by the South Island Information Systems Alliance (IS Alliance) which made the decision to rollout a South Island-wide system.

An e-referral system is an electronic process to replace paper documents when referring patients between health practitioners.

The NMDHB put out a request for proposal last year, attracting tenders from Canterbury Initiative's ERMS, Healthlink's CareConnect e-referrals, and BPAC Inc.

It has since come under fire from the other software firms after it cancelled its tender process and chose the least-preferred tenderer ERMS.

In data released to BPAC under the Official Information Act, evaluators found ERMS lagged behind both Healthlink's CareConnect and BPAC's system, scoring the worst in all nine crit eria.

ERMS also cost more at $974,700 over five years, compared with Healthlink's $189,000 and BPAC's $204,700.

Healthlink chief executive Tom Bowden said he had received word his company was the preferred provider and was surprised to miss out on the contract.

"We were disappointed and mystified and left wondering ‘what's going on?'," he said.

However, IS Alliance chairman Dr Andrew Bowers said the NMDHB evaluation was not relevant to the alliance's decision.

"As the NMDHB process was for a single district, the project had different requirements and parameters to that of a regional roll out.

"Costs of a stand-alone NMDHB system cannot reasonably be compared with those of a regional system. Development costs can be shared, functionality is different and duplicate costs are not incurred."

The ERMS system was developed several years ago in a clinician-driven project at the Canterbury DHB.

Dr Bowers said there had been significant feedback from the Canterbury GPs using the system which said they were in favour of the solution.

"They like it a lot.

"It is the incumbent system and extending it to the rest of GPs and DHBs is the most efficient way to move forward and provide a robust referral system for patients across the South Island," he said.

Mr Bowden said in an open letter to Dr Murray Horn, chairman of the National Health Board, and Graeme Osborne, Ministry of Health Information Group director, that an independent assessment was needed.

"Given the enormous disparity in costs and the NMDHB's somewhat gloomy assessment of the value of the third-ranked system, I think it would make a lot of sense to undertake an indep endent assessment of what is going on," he said.

Mr Bowden added that it was a lost opportunity to establish a vibrant and competitive market.