After being frustrated with the “patchwork” vaccine booking platforms on offer from Australian governments, software engineer Ken Tsang decided to build his own.
In doing so, he has already helped more than 300,000 Australians book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment in just a month.
Last year, Mr Tsang developed the COVID-19 Near Me platform, collating exposure sites into an easy-to-use map and platform.
Now, the geospatial engineer has integrated a vaccine clinic finder service to the platform, with a connection to GP clinics, pharmacies and state-run facilities, some of which are not featured on the federal government’s offering, and with more accurate appointment availabilities.
The independent service was launched a month ago and has already had more than 1.2 million page views, with 300,000 vaccine appointments found through it. Mr Tsang works on the service in his spare time after his day job and has not received any government support for it.
There are currently a number of different official vaccine booking platforms on offer in Australia. The federal government has contracted HealthEngine for this service, but is struggling with uptake among GP clinics, which are also listed on the HealthDirect platform. HotDoc is also being used to list some vaccine appointments.
Several state governments have also gone it alone on their own booking platforms, with Victoria paying Microsoft for its software, and Tasmania looking to Oracle. South Australia is the only state government to also use the Commonwealth booking platform, while New South Wales and South Australia are the only jurisdictions to have real-time availability offerings.
With pharmacies now also included in the vaccine rollout, there are now other systems available to users too.
This “patchwork” system is making it difficult for Australians to book a vaccine, with some platforms offering appointments that don’t exist, and none painting a comprehensive picture of what is available.
Mr Tsang’s platform aims to overcome these pain points and provide a one-stop shop for easily and quickly booking in a vaccine appointment.
“It’s quite disappointing that the government hasn’t been able to provide a similar service. Obviously they’ve tried, and the HealthDirectory works good, but the availability information really seems to be a problem. If they’re relying on booking providers, it’s not their fault,” Mr Tsang told InnovationAus.
“This problem should’ve been nutted out fairly early on – we knew this was happening. It’s quite disappointing we haven’t been able to get the official version working as well.”
The lack of a centralised vaccine booking system, featuring all the places offering the vaccine, eligibility checks and real-time appointment slots, is a major flaw in Australia’s rollout, and led Mr Tsang’s to make his own service.
“The government’s version is pretty good in that it lists all the clinics, but there are a few challenges. There are a bunch of different booking systems these clinics are using and they’re all different,” Mr Tsang said.
“The government can only really prioritise linking the most popular platforms, so what happens is it tries to show availability for those clinics, but that information isn’t always correct. The challenge is linking vast numbers of booking systems, then getting ones already linked to provide accurate results. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t show accurate results.”
The COVID-19 Near Me platform pulls information from a range of sources, including the official government site, pharmacies, and a number of other resources, using connectors with the booking providers developed by Mr Tsang.
“I’m doing the same thing as the government, but I’ve spent a fair bit of time to nut out some of the edge cases, some of the data errors that you see in the official one. I’ve worked around them and they don’t display at all so it works out which ones are legitimate bookings,” he said.
“You can see all the clinics on a map near you, you can filter through a whole bunch of parameters. If you’re after Pfizer, you can put that [in]. If you need a booking in the next seven days, you can select that. It updates in real time.”
Mr Tsang is running the service for free, devoting at least a couple of hours each day to it and the exposure map service.
“It does take a bit of a toll, but I think I’m helping,” he said.
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