Telstra ‘screening contract’ critics might want to join the flat earth society

4 minute read

When it comes to digital transformation, we are all creep and no leap


When it comes to digital transformation in healthcare, Australia is all creep and no leap, lots of show and no go

The amount of hoo-haa generated last week after Telstra Health won a $180 million contract to manage a national cancer screening register over the next few years demonstrates how unwilling and unprepared many of us are to embrace the sort of massive efficiencies that transformative digital technologies and the private sector can bring.

Telstra Health hasn’t covered itself in glory since its inception a couple of years back and conceivably the Telstra brand isn’t the country’s most trusted. But how do we expect to seriously create the sort of efficiencies we are going to need in the next few years to continue providing a decent standard of care and not go broke if we don’t take the odd jump? And get someone other than the government to share the risk? Currently it’s all creep and no leap.

Surely Telstra is a reasonable bet by a government that seems to have admitted that it isn’t very good at technology and transformation. A billion dollars and no PCHER proves that.

If not Telstra, it would have been an IBM, Microsoft or (cringe) Google, which, somewhat ironically recently got involved in a UK kidney screening program and instantly landed in hot water for potential violations of the UK’s complex maze of data and privacy regulations.

The key criticisms being levelled at Telstra on doctor forums, and across the consumer press, can be distilled into three themes:

1: Consumers won’t want their health data to be held by such a large private organisation.

2: Telstra has a bad track record of customer service.

3: Telstra is going to make a profit from this.

Here is the rejoinder to those worries:

1: Has anyone heard of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Amazon, Westpac, CBA, Woolworths, Visa, Amex, Qantas, Apple, and so on? These massive corporations hold more data on you that collectively is so intimate and defining of your personal life that you probably should be very fearful. But you aren’t. It’s a part of your everyday life. And because we sign into all these services without reading a thing, there are organisations out there mashing much of this data together to get any even more detailed profile of you. If you are truly scared of giving Telstra your data, then go and actually read the terms and conditions of using Facebook and Google. It’s horrific.

2: Telstra hasn’t got the greatest history of being a responsive organisation, but if anyone has followed the company in the last few years they’ve actually executed one of the most amazing transformations in Australian corporate history. And much of that has been on the back of embracing a digital future and improving their customer-facing performance.

3: All these big organisations handle your data and make a profit. Apple is the largest and most profitable company in history. Move on.

Organisations such as Telstra, CBA and Facebook are not run by Dr Evil. When you get very large you will inevitably get bad behaviour and big mistakes. But all those organisations listed above, perhaps barring Google, have largely stuck to their guns on their respective purposes in business and delivered amazing new services to us all.

Medical data and big business go together like ice cream and apple pie (unfortunately). And we are all going to have to get used to it if we want our healthcare system to stay the course and even improve. Either that or we’re going to go broke.

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