The implementation sites trialling Personally Controlled E-Health Records (PCEHR) has left out rural Australia because it's less of a challenge, according to the National Rural Health Alliance.
While the group is supportive of the government's $466 million e-health program because of the benefits it would bring to rural communities, it has raised concerns with the approach the implementation has taken at this point.
In March last year, then-Health Minister Nicola Roxon announced $55 million in funding for nine lead implementation sites in places such as Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Geelong, the Hunter Valley, the ACT and the Northern Territory, in addition to three existing sites that started in 2010.
Yet all the lead trial sites are well equipped with new technology to handle the PCEHRs and this may not be reflective of the situation in rural Australia, according to the alliance's submission published today, penned by executive director Gordon Gregory.
"Many rural people are concerned that the practicalities of implementing the PCEHR in rural and remote communities will be a major barrier to its uptake," he said. "These practicalities include physical broadband connectivity, reliable connections, compatibilities between systems, straightforward and step-by-step information about what it is and what consumers and various health professionals need to do to get on board."
He said some people even thought the name for PCEHR was "misleading and sounds exclusive", and that the key would be to simplify the information being given.
"Making an absolute commitment to simple messages, step-wise instructions and basic system requirements, while not a part of the legislation, will help guarantee access to the PCEHR for people who live in rural and remote communities."
Gregory called for more training for not only rural GPs but also hospitals, pharmacists, specialists and other health workers who would be using the PCEHR system.
He said that training would ensure higher adoption rates in rural areas, which would be critical to the success of the program. He said that the system needed to be adopted by all health professionals or it wouldn't work, comparing the program to the adoption of the euro.
"It needs to be everywhere so that you can exchange it, or it's not worthwhile."
A focus on rural Australia in the lead trial sites would be beneficial because it would provide new challenges, Gregory believes. For example, in rural Australia, healthcare professionals were flown in and out — as were many of the residents — meaning they may not always be present for trials.
While Gregory noted that the Northern Territory implementation had been a success, he believed the trials needed to be conducted in different conditions.