Australia's 'struggling' e-health records under review

Australia's 'struggling' e-health records under review

Summary: The Australian government has announced an inquiry into the rollout of the AU$1 billion e-health record system implemented under the former government.


Health Minister Peter Dutton has announced a short review into Australia's "struggling" AU$1 billion Personally Controlled E-Health Record project over its failure to attract doctors to participate.

Since 2011, the former Labor government, in conjunction with the states, has invested over AU$1 billion in the e-health program aimed at improving patient care through making it easier for healthcare providers to access and share information about a patient throughout the medical system.

Unlike the current problems affecting the US government's healthcare website, Australia's e-health system faced the opposite problem: Very little interest from the public and doctors in signing up.

While sign-up for patients had been roughly in line with expectations from the government, reaching over 900,000 to date, the number of documents being created and used in the system is still relatively low, with only a few hundred healthcare professionals putting up the "shared health summary" that lists a patient's details, and around 5,000 documents uploaded in total.

"This defeats the purpose of having a national, electronic system that is meant to help save lives," Dutton said yesterday.

"The government fully supports the concept of electronic health records, but it must be fit for purpose and cost effective."

The Coalition in opposition was always critical of the amount of spending on the project, but went to the election without any specific policy regarding the future of e-health records. As the new health minister, Dutton on Sunday announced a short review to report back to the government by mid December on the state of the project.

The review will be chaired by UnitingCare Health group executive director Richard Royale, who Dutton said is currently overseeing the implementation of Australia's "first fully integrated digital hospital" in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Assisting Royale will be the Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton, and Australia Post's CIO Andrew Walduck.

"The review team's expertise encompasses information technology, patient and medical services, and business administration, which I believe is the right mix to put the electronic records program back on track," Dutton said.

Hambleton told the ABC this morning that there had not been enough focus on making e-health records easy to use.

"The interface between the GP software and the PCEHR is difficult. The time spent on uploading what is a shared health summary needs to be done line by line with the patient, and that is time consuming. The efficiency is not there," Hambleton said.

The review will look at what users were expecting from the system versus what has been delivered, the level of consultation during the development of the system, the level of use of the records, barriers to uptake, usability issues, what needs to be done to fix the system, and the potential for the private sector to "provide solutions" for the e-health system.

The review is open to submissions from the public as well as stakeholder groups, Dutton said.

Topics: Government, Government AU, Health, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Do you trust them?

    We're talking about a government that has a history of eavesdropping on its population. They do this with the help of the NSA and other five-eyed nations, so they can say they're not spying on their own population.

    All this government eavesdropping erodes trust. Then they ask you to put all your private medical records on a shared system, and wonder why nobody is taking it up. "Oh, you can trust us to keep it private," they say.
  • eHealth Privacy

    Absolutely :-)
    See also Australian Privacy Foundation:
    PCEHR – FAQ for Clinicians, Public Advisory Statement (11 Aug 2013)
    PCEHR – FAQ for Consumers, Public Advisory Statement (11 Aug 2013)
    Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR), Public Statement (3 Nov 2013
  • eHealth Privacy

    It is not just about privacy, but it is about having new health professionals jumping to conclusions about your current situation which is not the same as it was previously. While you trust your local GP - especially ones that have an ongoing history (seeing you through the good and bad times), for 'patients' who have had issues such as abuse in all it's ramifications - means that while the person has moved on and overcome those issues - it's on the record. When it is 'recorded' discrimination is almost certain.

    There is naturally a real fear that the 'new' medico would choose to see the person still in 'victim' mode and not the person they have become.

    Add breaches of privacy with many medical centres having outdated computer security and fears of breaches to this system - of course neither the Medical Community and patients have concerns.

    Hackers are making headlines daily - just consider the latest in QLD and Premier Newman...coupled with a new Federal Government who is focused on money saving especially with regards to information technology.

    The ideal of having one file accessible by the person and all medical professionals is great - however, with so many being misdiagnosed with mental illnesses and other diseases, who could blame any individual just wanting a 'clean' second opinion that is unbiased and based purely on the presenting problem?

    For those that have multiple issues across many areas - which comes from an ageing population that necessarily require multiple professionals across a range of disciplines - not having to retell their story multiple times is tempting. But it raises the question that are the professionals even going to read the file - given the demands of an overworked and understaffed health care system who can hardly deal with the people walking in the doors of the local hospital?

    This therefore raises the only relevant question - who is purchasing what medications and are they being sold off for profit? The logical answer is this method of record keeping is more about decreasing 'Doctor shopping' than it is about increasing the benefits for the individual patient.

    I have heard nothing through the media that diminishes my concerns for the new system.