In a submission to Victoria's upcoming budget process, the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for the new Coalition State Government to commit $328 million over four years to ICT initiatives in the state's health sector.
"Despite the promises of HealthSMART, Victoria still does not have ICT infrastructure that caters adequately for the needs of patients. The potential quality and safety benefits of IT are not being realised, costing time and money, and leading to poorer patient outcomes," the AMA wrote in its submission, first found by Computerworld.
"Improved ICT will not solve all the problems in our health system, but these problems cannot be solved without improved ICT," the AMA added.
The AMA wants money spent on an Apple iPad tablet for every doctor, which could display electronic drug charts, medication-management systems and patient records, as well as funding to roll-out medication management systems, build better interfaces between hospitals, general practitioners and aged-care providers, and to build wireless support in hospitals.
In addition, the group advised that steady, recurrent funding be spent on up-to-date computers for use by medical staff, remedying a lack of standardised software between hospital networks, and providing for the replacement of "sub-standard hardware and software systems".
"To build these missing links in Victoria's ICT systems, we need to ensure that there is adequate ongoing investment," the AMA wrote. "AMA Victoria recommends recurrent funding of $60 million per annum to ensure an adequate level of ongoing investment."
The comments come as the new State Government appears to be turning away from e-health projects promised by the former Labor administration.
In November last year, then-Victorian Premier John Brumby promised every doctor in the state's public hospital system would be issued with an Apple iPad if his incumbent Labor Government was returned to power in the state's upcoming election. The Coalition never matched the promise, although it did indicate interest in "mobile technology" for health outcomes.
In addition, The Age reported in late March that departmental advice delivered to the new Coalition Government stated that HealthSMART would need another $200 million spent on it to justify the initial $360 million cost, with at least $95 million needed to complete the initial vision, and the rest to go on replacing systems outside HealthSMART's initial scope. Health Minister David Davis said as early as 24 January that the project would be reviewed.
This afternoon, Davis' office said that HealthSMART is being closely examined, but that no decision had yet been made as to its future. It has been reported that a number of contractors working on the project have not had their contracts renewed, but the office said that those staff had been working on projects coming to an end in any case — and on initiatives that were not necessarily key to HealthSMART.
However, it appears as though the Victorian AMA is determined to be vocal on the issue. Board member Dr Tony Bartone also issued a separate statement on the issue last week. "Doctors are concerned about Victoria's failing health IT systems. There is a lack of resources for IT across the health sector," he said.
"There are ongoing problems with hospital IT systems and the interface between general practice and hospitals. Patients require a seamless transition between acute and primary care settings but at the moment there are numerous roadblocks which impact on their ongoing health care."