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Vale Bob Whitehead

Published 29 April 2020

It is with deep fondness and admiration that the digital health community today recognises the legacy left by Robert Whitehead, who has passed away after his battle with cancer.

After growing up in Queensland, Bob reached national prominence for his leadership implementing health technology in the Northern Territory. Together with Dr Gary Sinclair, John Fletcher (“Fletch”) and Steven Moo, he put in place the best eHealth policy, workflows and clinical systems at a time when the Australian health system was just starting to digitise.

His forward thinking and deep understanding of the relationship between legislative protections and health IT drew national attention and he was appointed to Co-Chair NEHTA’s Identity, Authentication and Access Reference Group (IAARG) in 2010. This group developed policy and designed national systems of authentication and identification. His expertise, thoughtful approach and passion for pragmatism won the respect of stakeholders across our community, and his work underpins our national digital health infrastructure; healthcare identifiers, national authentication service for health (NASH) and the My Health Record.

Bob left a lasting impression on many of us; reflections from his peers are included below.

To Jan and Bob’s two daughters – thank you for your generosity in sharing Bob with us over so many years.

Today we honour Bob’s memory and tremendous legacy to Australia. May we all aspire to leaving such a significant footprint through our own lives and work. Vale, my friend.

Bettina McMahon
Interim Chief Executive Officer

Steven Moo, former Chief Information Officer NT Health

Bob Whitehead was a pioneer of eHealth/digital health in the NT and Australia.

He played a pivotal role in the success of the Northern Territory’s My eHealth Record Service that operated for 12+ years and also played a key leadership role with the National Health Chief Information Officer’s Forum, NEHTA and the Department of Health and Ageing.

Marina Fulcher, Co-Chair Identity, Authentication and Access Reference Group (IAARG)

The first time I became aware of Robert Whitehead (Bob) was at a Department of Health meeting in Canberra, where Northern Territory government representatives showcased their shared My eHealth Record. This was early 2000s and the idea of a shared health record for Australia was not even a twinkle in Kevin Rudd’s eye.

I was then most fortunate to work closely with Bob for several years from 2003 on the work undertaken by one of the NEHTA reference groups, IAARG (Identification, Authentication and Access), with Bob being appointed as my co-Chair of this group.

As a consequence, Bob and I spent many hours locked in meeting rooms with representatives from Government, stakeholder groups and peak bodies nutting out the finer details of what is now the HI Service, NASH and the early embryonic stages of the PCEHR. Bob leaves us with a quiet legacy that is intrinsically built into what we now refer to as our digital health foundations.

Bob was a deep thinker who was passionate about the work we were doing, making sure it met the needs of individuals and was, above all, safe and we certainly had some wicked problems to nut out in the early days.

I was most fortunate to work closely with him and learned a great deal. I will always remember his kindness and generosity as well as his great sense of humour.

Les Schumer, Lead Architect Healthcare Identifiers Service, Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record

Bob had a wealth of practical experience with the policy and practical design of the Northern Territory’s very successful Shared Health Electronic Record. He was always willing to share that wisdom and experience, and did so formally through the National Health Chief Information Officer’s Forum and the Identity, Authentication and Access Reference Group (IAARG).

It was through the IAARG that the principle designs for the Healthcare Identifiers Service, the National Authentication Service for Health and the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (later renamed My Health Record) were forged.

Informally, Bob was always ready and willing to bounce ideas around and share his immeasurable wisdom at any given time. He had a passion for “pragmatically getting things right” and ensuring the best possible outcomes for all the Australians that would benefit from the health infrastructure he helped us all create. He will be sorely missed by a great many.

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