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New health registration agency sorting out its “teething problems”

by Aleks Vickovich •
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The recently established Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is focusing on improving information flow after experiencing problems with its systems to manage the accreditation and registration of medical professionals. 

The problems surfaced almost immediately after the 1 July launch of the new agency and occurred due to staff shortages and a significant underestimation of the volumes of work it would encounter.

Since opening for business, AHPRA has struggled to meet the demand.  The agency has been inundated with as many as 3000 phone calls a day relating to registration and accreditation and has been forced to outsource the calls to an external call centre.  The AHPRA website received more than 460,000 visits and four million page views in July alone. 

AHPRA Chief Information Officer Ian Patterson told Intermedium that problems are inevitable with a government program of this scale.  “All major change processes are complex and this is no exception. The scope of the task of introducing a national scheme is significant. Not only are there new systems and processes, there are also new registration standards that practitioners must meet,” he said.

AHPRA has also issued a number of statements acknowledging the problems, conceding initially that “there have been challenges involved in the startup of the scheme and that these are impacting on some people.”  The statement went on to say that AHPRA “regret(s) that these issues have caused frustration” and that “delays are not acceptable”.

In a follow up statement issued the next day, 15 July 2010, AHPRA said it is “boosting our (sic) enquiry response and bedding down our IT systems” and also said it is increasing the number of enquiries staff.

Despite these admissions, the Sydney Morning Herald published a report on July 17 which characterised AHPRA’s first weeks as a “meltdown” and quoted health workers as saying that the “transition had been bungled and the service was launched without adequate resources”.

 AHPRA has responsibility for registering as many as 560,000 health professionals and the problems of the past weeks may leave hundreds of health staff unable to practice, according to the Fairfax report.

AHPRA is an initiative of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and was intended “improve the quality and safety of Australia’s health services through a modernized national regulatory system for health professionals”.

One of the agency’s central tasks is to consolidate as many as 1.5 million records, including some that are not currently in electronic form, to one IT system.   AHPRA’s statement described the project as “very ambitious” and said the organisation is subsequently experiencing some “teething problems”.

However despite these issues Mr Patterson said this project has met most of its central objectives.  “The process has gone as well as can be expected given the complexity of the task, the resources available, and the speed with which implementation has proceeded,” he said.

Mr Patterson has advised Intermedium that the tasks of migrating registrant data to AHPRA’s system and merging inactive registrant legacy data have now been completed and the agency is currently undergoing a systematic process of data validation and checking, to ensure accuracy and compliance with relevant legislation.

 AHPRA claims that renewals are currently exceeding 100 per hour through the online renewal system. The agency says 1200 registration renewals and 500 new applications were completed in July and that more than 6500 new applications are still being processed. 

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