HealthConnect gets productivity check-up

The federal government has not demonstrated how its new electronic medical records network would deliver benefits, Australia's productivity watchdog reckons.

The federal government has not demonstrated how its new electronic medical records network would deliver benefits, Australia's productivity watchdog reckons.

HealthConnect is a government project aiming to build a network of electronic personal health records and improve the flow of information in the Australian health sector. The system has been trialled in parts of Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Queensland for several years.

However, this week the Productivity Commission -- a key government advisory and review body -- said "feasibility studies and trials used to evaluate HealthConnect appear to be deficient". The comments came in the commission's report on the impact of medical technology on national healthcare expenditure.

The report was particularly stern on commissioned HealthConnect benefit studies from DMR Consulting and Fujitsu. It said the reports "examined only a narrow range of benefits and did not demonstrate how HealthConnect would generate the claimed benefits".

Costs for the project, the commission claimed, have been assessed in isolation from benefits. The examination of benefits has also been limited. In addition, "trials have been uncoordinated", and "implementation has preceded successful completion of trials".

The commission also unveiled "major interoperability problems ... within and between hospitals, as well as linking medical specialists into the system".

In addition, the commission was concerned about the privacy provisions of the project. It cited concerns from the Federal Privacy Commissioner that "the roll-out of HealthConnect could precede the establishment of governance mechanisms".

The HealthConnect project is associated with trials of a new Medicare card project, which would see the current generation of magnetic strip cards replaced by cards with an included computer chip. Privacy advocates have expressed concern about the smartcard scheme, particularly with respect to its integration with HealthConnect.

Federal Human Services Minister Joe Hockey said this week in his first speech as minister of the newly-created department that the cards would be rolled out nationally and used to access government services beyond Medicare.

"What the smartcard represents is one set of keys to open a number of doors to a range of government services and benefits," Hockey said.

Renai LeMay reported for ZDNet Australia.

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