Federal Government Health & eHealth Reform Agenda

The Federal Minister for Health, Hon Tanya Plibersek MP recently made several public statements about the Federal Government Health And eHealth Reform Agenda explaining that any change so large and so complex with a significant infrastructure investment, needs solid foundations.

The following are excerpts from Minister Plibersek’s statement:

Each year around Australia there are more than 15,000 hospital admissions because of medication errors due to poor patient information. eHealth will help to reduce such errors.

eHealth will also mean:

  • better co-ordinated care for patients with chronic or complex illnesses;
  • reduced duplication of testing;
  • less of a need for patients to retell their story every time they see a healthcare professional; and
  • a more efficient use of time, staff and funding.

These benefits were recognised by health ministers from across the country back in October 2008 through the National eHealth Strategy.

The strategy details the shared commitment of all governments to developing electronic medication management, secure electronic messaging between healthcare providers, the use of healthcare identifiers for patients and providers, digital authentication, and a national eHealth records system.

eHealth Achievements So Far

Our progress on the foundation elements of an eHealth system has been strong.

In 2010 the Healthcare Identifiers Service commenced operation. And already more than 1.7 million Individual Healthcare Identifiers have been matched and downloaded from the Service. This is an essential part of the preparation for the roll out of the eHealth records system, as it allows healthcare professionals to accurately identify patients so they can safely exchange their records.

We’re also seeing around 70% of community pharmacies now using ePrescribing. One prescription exchange service reported 4.2 million prescriptions dispensed in the week before Christmas last year alone.

We’ve also developed specifications for the clinical software that healthcare professionals use that allow them to contribute to and access a patient’s eHealth record, including shared health summaries, event summaries and discharge summaries with their patient’s permission.

And of course we are currently building the foundations of a national eHealth records system.

The National eHealth Records System from 1 July

The national eHealth records system will be a cornerstone of eHealth in Australia… and from 1 July this year the Federal Government will start to roll it out.

From 1 July, patients will be able to register for their own eHealth record through Medicare shopfronts and over the phone. And mums and dads will be able to register for their kids.

When they’re registered, patients will be able to go online to view their record and add a range of basic health information, including emergency contact details, the location of their advanced care directives, any allergies they have or medication they’re on.

Patients will also be able to create their own private ‘diary’ area of the eHealth record, where they can enter their own health-related notes.

Powerful patient privacy controls are a critical part of the eHealth record.

From the start, patients will also be able to set these privacy controls to determine who can access which information. For extra security, patients will also be able to see an access log that shows them every time their record has been a viewed or edited.

1 July – The First Step Of Many In A Gradual Roll Out

This is a big and exciting project, but I’m determined not to rush it.

This isn’t a matter of ‘flick a switch’ on 1 July and away you go.

We’ve always said the rollout of the national eHealth system would be in gradual, carefully managed phases. That is the sensible, responsible way to deliver this reform.

The initial step we’ll take on 1 July has always been about two key things…
…firstly, delivering the core national eHealth system – the building blocks…
…and secondly, allowing the first patients to register.

And both are on track.

Over time, as patients and doctors register, more detailed and sophisticated features will be available as part of an eHealth record.

Eventually things like immunisation records, Medicare and pharmaceutical benefits information, organ donation details, and hospital discharge papers will be able to be added.

And healthcare professionals will start to integrate patient eHealth records with the software they use in their practices so they’ll easily be able to add new information to a patient’s record.

The Northern Territory introduced a form of eHealth records a few years ago.

What that example shows us is that take up tends to be slow in the first couple of years, but that as the system matures take up accelerates. We expect that to be the case for the national eHealth records system too.

This project has been talked about for a decade, so naturally there is a high degree of interest and excitement now that it’s becoming a reality.

The rollout of eHealth will eventually change the way patients are cared for, starting first with the highest users of health services.

Just as the Snowy Scheme took years to build, and moved, over time, from simply an irrigation project to a renewable energy project that today powers the morning and evening rush hours of Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide.

This didn’t happen overnight, nor was the full potential of the project realised on the day the water started flowing. The national eHealth records system will grow and evolve in a similar way.

Making a real difference for patients

Technology has long been a driver of significant advances in health care in Australia — of our ability to detect and treat injury, illness and disease, and of our ability to protect and preserve life.

The great majority of our healthcare professionals — GPs, specialists, pharmacists, and allied professionals such as physiotherapists and psychologists — use computers regularly in their daily practice. And most of us have internet access at home.

The problem has been that up to now, all these computers have not been talking to each other.

But the Government’s national eHealth records system will enable secure and consistent information sharing.

Government has worked with the health profession and the IT industry to develop the common language and secure information transfer needed to make a real difference where it matters most – for patients in clinics, hospitals and homes across our nation.