Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek announcing new eHealth funding at the Hhealth Informatics Conference on Wednesday
Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek has announced this week that pathology and diagnostic imaging results are the next two features to be added to the national eHealth record infrastructure following an $8 million commonwealth investment to upgrade medical software.
Speaking at the Health Informatics Conference (HIC) in Adelaide on Wednesday, Minister Plibersek said the new functionality will allow information such as a patient’s blood test and x-ray results to be stored securely online in their personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR), and that it was the first step to enabling diagnostic images to be added in the future.
This new funding comes two months after the government committed $10 million to enable advance care directives to be stored in an individual’s eHealth record to assist with end of life planning, a move which has been universally welcomed in the aged services and palliative care sectors.
Ms Plibersek said storing pathology and imaging results online will reduce the need to chase down results or duplicate tests, benefitting both doctors and patients.
“This is really great for patients who might have a test ordered by their GP and want to refer to it if they have to go to hospital.
“It means that tests won’t be unnecessarily repeated [and] that if you move interstate or change doctors you’ll have that medical record available to travel with you with a lot more information about your health,” Ms Plibersek said.
The funding will be used to develop specifications for the changes needed to be made to desktop software and other software programs, Ms Plibersek said.
“Then it will be for software providers, vendors, and others that are having to change the software to make this possible and ensure that all of the software is interoperable and consistent,” she said.
“This work will pave the way for x-ray and MRI images themselves to be stored on a patient’s eHealth record in the future.”
PCEHR sign up
Ms Plibersek said there were now around 520,000 people with a PCEHR since going live in July 2012, and that about 7000 Australians were signing up every day.
In contrast to reports that the uptake has been slow, and echoing comments made by Department of Health and Ageing secretary Jane Halton in a HIC session on Tuesday, Ms Plibersek said the number of people currently signed up had exceeded government expectations.
“We hoped to have half a million people signed up by the middle of this year but in fact, we’ve already gone beyond that,” she said.
Nearly 5,000 GP practices, hospitals, and other healthcare organisations have also signed up, and hospitals are gradually rolling out the uploading of discharge summaries to patient eHealth records, Ms Plibersek said.
“By the end of the year, we expect every state and territory to have hospitals participating in the electronic discharge summary program,” she said.
Adding the pathology and diagnostic imaging results makes this information richer, Ms Plibersek said.
“More information is available to the doctor but of course patients also benefit by having more information about their own health.”
Functionality for pathology and diagnostic imaging results is expected to roll out in the first half of 2014.
In addition to advance care directives and hospital discharge summaries, a patient’s PCEHR can currently hold a medical history summary; medications prescribed and dispensed; allergy information; childhood immunisation records; child health and development information; organ donor status; summaries of individual patient health events; Medicare and PBS claims data; and notes uploaded by the individual record holder.
Sign up for an eHealth record at eHealth.gov.au.