Our friend, mentor and digital health crusader passed away in Melbourne on Monday 13 May 2019.
Andrew’s inveterate passion and rampant enthusiasm for making a difference changed healthcare services for all Australians.
Andrew began his career journey in medical practice. He was frustrated by paper medical charts, patient files and hard copy ECGs and pathology reports that were being misfiled and lost. He knew that there was a better way.
Working for NEC -in the depths of the hospitals – Andrew found ways to implement his vision. He learned that there were major problems in the management, use and administration of medications. He personally committed to a highly ambitious vision to close the prescribing, dispensing and administration loop and so eliminate the 230,000 preventable medication errors that result in hospitalisations and complications in Australia.
In 2009, Andrew joined the Department of Health in Victoria as the Chief Information Officer. He inherited the $360 million “failed” Healthsmart program and a political agenda that seemed determined to shut down investment in digital health technology.   Andrew built a new strategy and commenced deployment of his vision for a closed loop medications management platform.   The political pressure continued, but Andrew’s resilience and belief in what could be achieved never wavered.
With his clear vision, his infectious enthusiasm and the capability to get to the detail of medical practice changes, Andrew brought many of us together to implement the platform. The political attention never phased his belief. When asked by a Minister, “will any of this technology kill someone?” Andrew replied with his true domain and IT knowledge and experience – “Yes! people will make mistakes. However, they will make many fewer mistakes with the technology”. Yes – he was brutally honest too.
After many years of pushing forward, reports from the Austin Hospital and Peninsula Hospital confirmed the benefits that Andrew envisioned, and confidence rose to continue to invest in technology enablement.
At the same time, the national ehealth agenda needed support from the jurisdictions. Andrew joined the Council of Australian Government’s National Health Chief Information Officer Forum – as co-chair.   Andrew’s unbridled passion, knowledge and vision shaped the national and state digital health landscapes.
The collaboration between the CIOs led to the successful delivery of many new initiatives at a state and national level. We are still seeing the impact of Andrew’s contribution in telemedicine policy, the My Health Record, national safety and quality programs for the quality use of medications, and continued support for investments and innovation in heath IT.
Andrew was usually the smartest person in the room, with more experience than all of us as a clinician and digital leader – but, regardless, he would listen, absorb and debate. These robust discussions with Andrew ensured that we were on the best path forward.
At the height of this success, Andrew was diagnosed with cancer. His passion and vision took on a new dimension as a patient advocate.   He joined the Peter Mac patient advisory group and began to work again on changing the way the health system functioned.
On his journey with cancer, Andrew’s incorrigible sense of humour kept everyone’s spirits high. He had a clear vision to outlive his financial capacity.   He worked with the Peter Mac clinicians to utilise treatments that enabled Andrew to continue his commitment to the health sector and to enjoy his life with his partner, family and friends.   Andrew found a new balance to contribute as an advisor and mentor to many of us who sought his personal council, to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare, the Australian Digital Health Agency and at Peter Mac.   Somehow he finally found time to sail, travel (including two trips to South America) and could always be counted on to share a bottle of great red wine.
We will remember Andrew as someone that cared for every person he knew and who lifted our hearts with his love.
Andrew’s wish is that donations to continue change be made to https://celebratepetermac.everydayhero.com/au/andrew-howard
*With special thanks to Andrew’s health informatics family for this tribute to our friend.