Barwon Health’s Andrew Macfarlane on health IT’s wild ride

The COVID-19 pandemic and managing the shift from legacy manual systems to modern digital ones has the CIO drawing on his retail experience and prior battle-hardening.

andrew macfarlane barwon health
Barwon Health

After spending more than 20 years in various senior tech roles with Target Australia, Andrew Macfarlane had to strap himself in after making his foray into the health sector three years ago. A year after joining Geelong-based Barwon Health as director of technology and communications, he moved just one rung from the top job after being appointed interim CIO in June 2019.

In September 2019, Barwon became one of several regional health agencies in Victoria to fall victim to a sophisticated cyberattack, which caused huge disruption across one of Australia’s largest regional health consortia, the South West Alliance of Rural Health (SWARH).

The breach saw access denied to several key systems across multiple hospitals and health services, including financial management, putting many patients at serious risk with critical healthcare staff across the region stretched to the limit. The mopup process was lengthy, during which Barwon and other SWARH agencies’ hospitals and medical facilities were forced to revert to antiquated paper-based systems until digital services were restored.

In late 2019, Macfarlane’s efforts were rewarded when he was promoted to CIO of Barwon Health, at the same time as being handed the even broader job of CIO at SWARH. Formed in late 1997, SWARH is an alliance of public health agencies covering an area of some 60,000 km sq across southwest Victoria. It connects all public acute hospitals and associated health services from the west of Melbourne to the South Australia border.

Patient death leads to culture shift

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