GPpartners open up on e-health trial

Since signing on as a first release site for the government's $466.7 million e-health record program last year, GPpartners in Brisbane has been charged with the job of getting GPs onto the e-health bandwagon before July 2012.

Since signing on as a first release site for the government's $466.7 million e-health record program last year, GPpartners in Brisbane has been charged with the job of getting GPs onto the e-health bandwagon before July 2012.

Stethoscope

(Littman image by Katrin Morenz, CC BY-SA 2.0)

GPpartners is a division of General Practice located in Brisbane, and serving 800 general practitioners, 200 GP offices and several public and private hospitals in the city. The organisation has several e-health programs such as secure messaging already in place and, according to GPpartners spokesperson Simon Carr, GPpartners was picked for the trial because of the organisation's long history in e-health.

"We have for a long, long time been supporting our general practices in e-health improvement and practice improvement," he said. "We were approaching government for some time around funding to improve e-health in our local area and as that was all happening, the e-health reform agenda started to develop. We have a great deal of experience and I think our experience with change management, and getting GPs to adopt change, is really what got us over the line."

GPpartners has employed a team specifically to visit general practices and get them prepared for the e-health transition. This begins with signing GPs up for Health Provider Indentifiers, he said, which — along with the practice identifier — is necessary for sharing individual healthcare information via an e-health record.

"Those two key bits of information will enable that provider to share information in an e-health environment post-July 2012," he said. "Once we have a number of practices and providers with those numbers, it is then allocating the [Individual Health Identifiers] for those practices to the patients that attend those practices. That is something that hasn't really been done in the broader community."

Carr noted that one of the biggest challenges in the project had been selling the idea of the health identifiers to GPs and educating them about the benefits that it offers. The reaction from GPs had been mixed.

"You will always get different providers and different organisations that will come on board at various different stages," Carr said. "You will always get your early adopters and some people who are really keen to be involved, other people will sit on the sideline and watch before making a decision and you will always have some who are reluctant to make any decision in that area and will not participate."

He said that the vast majority of healthcare providers already keep electronic records of their patients; it is just a matter of sharing that information on a national level.

"The majority of general practice have electronic clinical systems that are storing health records and they're using them every day. The concept of [the e-health record] is about how you would share the information around that," he said.

The government has set the target of July 2012 for personally-controlled e-health records to be made available for use by patients in Australia. According to Carr, GPpartners is on track with its trial.

"The timeframe for us ends in June 2012 and that's a compressed timeframe to achieve everything that we are tasked with, deploying and testing elements of the [e-health record]," he said. "We will achieve a lot of those tasks in this timeframe. A fundamental part of our contract, or our funding agreement is to feed those lessons back in. And that's a wave one commitment, to feed lessons learned back to government to help them form future direction."

GPpartners already had secure messaging systems and electronic referral systems that will remain in place separate to the trial itself, he said, while the organisation works on selling the benefits of a national e-health scheme to GPs.

"E-health means many things to many different people but for us it is about improving that timely exchange of health information using technology," he said. "[It is about] the right information about the right person at the right time and the right place."

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