DoHMS disaster

My colleagues on ITP's Medical Times magazine have turned up what looks like a bad case of project mismanagement, with this story on Dubai's Department for Health and Medical Services (DoHMS)

Tags: Ministry of Health - UAEPrivacy
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By  Mark Sutton Published  November 5, 2008

My colleagues on ITP's Medical Times magazine have turned up what looks like a bad case of project mismanagement, with this story on Dubai's Department for Health and Medical Services (DoHMS).

The system, introduced in July, was supposed to collect data on medical consultations from across Dubai, so that the data could be used to track trends and compile statistics. Straightforward enough so far - plenty of other medical authorities collect such data, but the DoHMS scheme lacked one feature that almost all others have - patient confidentiality.

Clinics were expected to collect the data, including patient identity, and pass it on to DoHMS online each day. Failure to do so could result in them losing their licence. And patients weren't aware that their data was being collected either.

Naturally enough, the doctor's complained about the system - but only after it was rolled out and had been in operation for several weeks. Why was there no consultation with the end users - the doctors themselves - before the project was specced? It seems that straight away the medical practitioners spotted that the system would break local privacy laws, so how did an organization like DoHMS - no stranger to technology - fail to spot this too when they designed the project?

The system has now been pulled, leaving clinics with up to AED 40,000 ($11,000) of 'unusable' kit - because on top of failing to respect the law, the system chosen didn't follow international standards for medical records, meaning it can't be easily integrated with other systems.

Data that has been collected so far will be destroyed (I'm hoping that proper standards of data management are followed on this one, although I have a picture in my mind's eye of someone at DoHMS sitting there printing out each report and then putting the hard copy through a shredder...)

All-in-all, this project reads like a how-not-to-do-it guide. Failure to consult with end users, failure to understand the regulatory environment, failure to understand data privacy and confidentiality principles, failure to follow recognized industry standards...

The worse part of this, is the damage it will do among practitioners' faith in electronic records and healthcare information systems. I lose track of the amount of vendors who have pushed the benefits of different solutions for the healthcare industry - up to and including Intel's Craig Barrett playing possum on stage at IDF this year.

With proper encryption or redaction of indentifying information where necessary, and unified standards of record keeping, integrated medical systems, and systems that can quickly deliver patient information to those that need it, wherever they are, can really mean the difference between life and death. But forcing expensive systems, which don't respect the ethics of the sector, onto medical practitioners will make them see IT as a burden not a benefit.

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