The Federal Government has allocated a huge chunk of this year's Budget towards the creation of long-awaited electronic health records for Australians — $466.7 million will be supplied over two years to support the initiative.
The money will fund Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon's plan to introduce a national health identifier system to Australia's health system — which was the focus of legislation brought into federal parliament in early February.
"The government will provide $466.7 million over two years to establish the key components of the personally controlled electronic health record system for Australia," the Budget Health portfolio documents stated. "This secure online system will enable improved access to healthcare information, commencing in 2012/13."
The documents said the project would deliver the capability to produce "nationally consistent patient health summaries" from existing and compliant information sources. "Patients who choose to participate will be able to securely access, and permit their healthcare providers to access, their health information," the document stated.
The Budget documents claimed the project would provide clinical outcomes such as more informed medical assessments and decision-making, improved continuity of care for patients and improved efficiencies.
But not all of the money will go to building a health identifier system — the budget documents said that subject to Roxon's legislation being passed, $500,000 each year would go to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to support the initiative — presumably to provide a watch on the potential violation of patient privacy through the system.
The Budget documents also warned that Australia's states and territories would need to provide complementary investments to build their capacity in readiness for the national system. Of the funds, $185.6 million will be allocated over the next year, and $281.2 million in the 2011/2012 financial year.
The funding is expected to be welcomed by large swathes of Australia's e-health community, which has been calling for support for health technology initiatives for several years. It is expected that the overall health identifier project will involve several branches of government — such as the independent National E-Health Transition Authority, the Department of Health and Ageing, and Medicare.