eHealth review to probe private sector buy-in

The private sector and medical providers could soon have a much bigger say in how Australia’s ailing efforts to create a national system of electronic health and medical records unfolds.

By Julian Bajkowski 

The private sector and medical providers could soon have a much bigger say in how Australia’s ailing efforts to create a national system of electronic health and medical records unfolds.

The Abbott government has revealed it now wants substantial input on what non-government providers can contribute to make eHealth a reality after federal Health and Sports Minister Peter Dutton outlined the terms of reference for a new probe into what almost a decade of development has achieved – and what it hasn’t.

Announcing a review foreshadowed before the election, Mr Dutton said the Coalition government still “fully supports the concept of electronic health records but it must be fit for purpose and cost effective.”

Clinicians, especially general practitioners, have long questioned why commercial practice management software systems have been able to come up with popular, user friendly and secure software while governments have struggled to create a useful or function back end.

Of the 10 points in the inquiry’s terms of reference – most of which go to either identifying or fixing well known shortcomings in the existing Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) – three directly deal with fostering greater industry involvement.

Specifically, the government’s eHealth review wants to know:

•    The applicability and potential integration of comparable private sector products;
•    The future role of the private sector in providing solutions;
•    The policy settings required to generate private sector solutions.

In August this year several key clinical advisors walked away in frustration from the National eHealth Transition Authority (NeHTA) amid strained relations between doctors and the then Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA).

Part of the breakdown in relations is believed to have centred around DoHA wresting greater control over the rollout of the PCEHR from NeHTA which is funded through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

The departure of senior clinical advisors in turn forced crisis talks between the Health Department’s Secretary, Professor Jane Halton, and the President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Steve Hambleton, over the PCEHR’s shortcomings, including its usability.

The support of clinician groups is essential for any national eHealth system to proceed because without it there would essentially not be any users.

As the incoming Health Minister, Peter Dutton isn’t taking any undue risks over potentially alienating the AMA.

While the eHealth Review will be chaired by Richard Royle, who is executive director of the UnitingCare Health group in Queensland, assisting him will be Dr Hambleton.

At the same time, Andrew Walduck, the chief information officer of Australia Post, has also been given a key role in reviewing the PECHR.

“The Review team’s expertise encompasses information technology, patient and medical services and business administration which I believe is the right mix to put the electronic health records program back on track,” Mr Dutton said.

Whether the rails of that track could head towards private enterprise and away from government is now a question many will be asking given most of the software that doctors use on their desktops and iPads has not been coded by the government.

This article first appeared in AAA’s sister publication, Government News.

Tags: ama, dr stephen hambleton, ehealth, peter-dutton,

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